- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A federal judge said he will decide by the end of the week if former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman will be released from prison as he fights his 2006 bribery conviction.

U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land held a hearing Monday in Siegelman’s request for an appeal bond. Land said he has to weigh the likelihood of Siegelman prevailing when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments in the case next month. Siegelman, a Democrat, is asking the appellate court to grant him a new trial, arguing that his case was tainted by the involvement of a prosecutor with ties to GOP politics.

Siegelman, 68, was transferred from a Louisiana prison camp to attend the hearing. Siegelman wore a red jail jumpsuit and sat handcuffed and shackled through the hearing.

Siegelman lawyer Gregory Craig said former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary remained improperly involved in the case despite her announced recusal in 2002. He read a funding request Canary wrote in which she described the case as a top priority for her office.

“To me, that is not the statement of someone who is recused. She is championing this case,” Craig said Monday.

Canary’s husband has been active in GOP politics and was a political ally of former Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who defeated Siegelman in 2002, and did some consulting work for another 2002 GOP candidate.

Prosecutors opposed Siegelman’s release, arguing it is unlikely Siegelman will get his conviction overturned.

Justice Department lawyer John-Alex Romano argued Canary had little involvement. The 11th Circuit rejected similar tainted trial arguments made by Siegelman’s co-defendant Richard Scrushy, Romano said.

“The record shows minimal involvement that did not rise to the level of violation of the right to a disinterested prosecutor,” Romano said.

Craig responded that a key issue is that Siegelman’s defense team never has been able to question Canary to actually know the extent of her involvement. Siegelman has asked the 11th Circuit to at least let him get additional discovery on the issue.

Land repeatedly questioned Romano on if a prosecutor could ever have a financial stake in the outcome of a case without it being a reversible error.

Siegelman is also arguing that the trial judge erred in calculating his sentence of 6 ½ years. A jury in 2006 convicted Siegelman of selling Scrushy a spot on a hospital regulatory board in exchange for donations to his 1999 campaign to establish a lottery.

More than 70 supporters, including several former staff members from Siegelman’s decades in political office, packed the courtroom for a glimpse of the former governor back in his home state.

A wave of hands went up from supporters as the governor came in and out of the courtroom. One man raised his fingers in a V for victory sign. Siegelman’s son Joseph, who was a teen during his father 2006 trial, is now a lawyer and sat with his father as part of his defense team.

Siegelman friend Chip Hill said Siegelman was “down” and exhausted after a 10-day prison transfer that involved three stays in solitary confinement, but was guardedly optimistic about his chances in court.

“There is a sense of optimism about the overall appeal, but this has been a long journey, as you guys know. So the governor tempers his enthusiasm and doesn’t allow himself to get too excited,” Hill said of Siegelman.

As he seeks a reversal of fortune, Siegelman has a new lawyer with ties to the White House and a new judge.

Craig previously served as President Barack Obama’s White House counsel and also led the team of lawyers that defended President Bill Clinton during impeachment proceedings in 1998.

Judge Land was assigned the case after the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, was arrested in August on domestic violence charges.

Siegelman has a projected release date of Aug. 8, 2017 unless he gets his conviction overturned, or his sentence shortened.

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