- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Eight years after his conviction on corruption charges, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman took his case back to an appellate court in an effort to win his release from prison.

In oral arguments Tuesday before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Siegelman’s attorneys said the 2006 trial was tainted by partisan politics and that a judge handed down a much longer sentence than the conviction warranted.

Siegelman, once a successful Democrat in a deeply red state, has long contended that politics played a role in the investigation against him. Attorney Clifford M. Sloan told a three-judge panel that new evidence suggests a U.S. attorney, with ties to the GOP, stayed involved in the case despite her announced recusal. Sloan asked the court to let him probe the issue and subpoena testimony and documents.

“It’s time to let some sunshine in and see what really happened,” Sloan said.

However, a Justice Department lawyer argued Siegelman was making empty claims that have already been raised and rejected by the appellate court.

A jury convicted Siegelman on charges that he sold a seat on a state regulatory board to HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy in exchange for $500,000 in donations to his signature political issue, a 1999 campaign to establish a state lottery. He was also convicted of obstruction.

Siegelman, 68, was not in court. He is serving his 6 ½ year sentence at a Louisiana prison camp. He has a projected release date of Aug. 8, 2017.

Siegelman’s appeal centers around Leura Canary, who was the U.S. attorney in the early days of a federal investigation into Siegelman’s office. Canary’s husband was a political ally of former Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who defeated Siegelman in 2002, and he did some consulting work for another unsuccessful 2002 GOP primary candidate.

Canary recused herself in 2002 after Siegelman’s then-lawyer raised the issue of her involvement. Sloan said information provided by a former Justice Department paralegal suggested Canary steered office resources to the case, got updates and sent an email suggesting trial lawyers seek a gag order despite her announced recusal.

“When the boss in the office is weighing in, that’s control,” Sloan said.

Siegelman’s attorneys also argued that a judge made sentencing errors when he put Siegelman behind bars for more than six years. Sloan said the judge used a “kitchen sink” approach that held Siegelman responsible for other accusations that were unrelated to the bribery and obstruction charges.

Department of Justice attorney John-Alex Romano said the 11th Circuit has heard and settled these issues. Romano said the court previously determined that Canary had limited involvement when it rejected a similar claim in Scrushy’s appeal.

Romano also said Siegelman had a pattern of corruption that warranted a higher sentence.

Judge Peter T. Fay appeared skeptical of claims that Canary exerted control on the case, noting prosecutors never sought the suggested gag order.

“That doesn’t sound like control,” he said.

However, Judge David Ebel asked Romano why not just turn over Canary’s emails to show the extent of her involvement.

Sloan recently served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on the closing of Guantanamo. Siegelman is also being represented by White House counsel Gregory Craig.

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