Nothing To See Here

by digby

Both dday and I have covered the Don Siegelman case over the past year or so and it remains one of the flagship legal atrocities of the Bush Justice Department (and that's saying something.) Today, Christy Hardin Smith writes about the latest revelation in this Kafkaesque horror. She reports that the US Attorney who had supposedly recused herself (she was married to a campaign operative for Siegelman's Republican rival) was actually guiding the case. But even worse than that was this:

AUSAs in the case had multiple ex parte communications with jurors, while the jury was deliberating on its verdict -- passed through US Marshalls at the courthouse -- which were never disclosed to either the judge or opposing counsel. Via Time:

Grimes last year also gave DoJ additional e-mails detailing previously undisclosed contacts between prosecutors and members of the Siegelman jury....

The DoJ conducted its own inquiry into some of Grimes' claims, and wrote a report dismissing them as inconsequential. But the report shows that investigators did not question U.S. marshals or jurors who had allegedly been in touch with the prosecution.

A key prosecution e-mail describes how jurors repeatedly contacted the government's legal team during the trial to express, among other things, one juror's romantic interest in a member of the prosecution team. "The jurors kept sending out messages" via U.S. marshals, the e-mail says, identifying a particular juror as "very interested" in a person who had sat at the prosecution table in court. The same juror was later described reaching out to members of the prosecution team for personal advice about her career and educational plans. Conyers commented that the "risk of [jury] bias ... is obvious".

Beyond being incredibly stupid, this is a material breach of ethics. No, and I mean NO, ex parte communications are to occur with jurors which are not immediately disclosed fully and completely to opposing counsel and the judge throughout the trial. Ever.

But during the deliberations process where any instance of bias can be crucial to the dynamics on reaching a verdict? You can bet this will come up on appeal. There should also be serious investigation and consideration of severe sanction from the state bar and from the trial judge, whose orders on post-trial juror contact were blatantly violated as well.

This case is so badly tainted on so many levels it's hard to see how any of the people involved should ever be allowed to practice law again. But the DOJ saying that a juror having a crush on a member of the prosecution and actually communicating with him during deliberations was "inconsequential" is beyond belief.

It doesn't appear that there will be any follow up on all of these political shennanigans at the Bush justice department and it's too bad. This particular case will probably result in some slaps on the wrist by the courts and the legal community simply because it's so high profile. But there's no telling how much of this sort of thing went on. We know that the highest levels of the Bush administration instructed US Attorneys to use their office for political purposes. Some got fired for failing to follow through. It stands to reason that the others followed orders.

I guess the political establishment feels that Alberto Gonzales' resignation as Attorney General was symbolic punishment and that should be enough. Irony abounds.