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Siegelman-Scrushy case AP’s top state story in ’06

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s biggest news story of 2006 — the convictions of former Gov. Don Siegelman and fired HealthSouth Corp.
chief Richard Scrushy in a bribery scheme — will continue in 2007, when a federal judge will decide how long the two should serve in prison.

And regardless of the punishment, both defense attorneys and prosecutors say the case could have a lasting impact at the Statehouse.

The Associated Press has named the Siegelman and Scrushy convictions as the top story in Alabama in
2006.

Jurors in June accepted prosecutors’ claims that Scrushy bought his way on to a state hospital regulatory board with a donation to Siegelman’s lottery foundation.

‘Chilling effect’

It’s a verdict attorneys for Siegelman and Scrushy say will have a “chilling effect” on politics, making potential contributors afraid to give large donations and making office holders afraid to do business with anyone who gave to their campaigns.

But prosecutors say the verdicts will make politicians think twice before they
take bribes in exchange for
political appointments.

Attorneys say whether Siegelman and Scrushy did anything different from other politicians who have accepted campaign gifts and later appointed the donors to key government positions will likely be a part of their appeal, which will be filed after the sentencing.

The sentencing is expected to happen after U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller rules on a defense motion challenging the racial makeup of the jury pool used to select the grand jury.

On June 29, the jury found Siegelman and Scrushy guilty of bribery and conspiracy in a scheme where prosecutors say Siegelman agreed to appoint Scrushy to an important hospital regulatory board in exchange for the then HealthSouth CEO arranging $500,000 in donations to Siegelman’s campaign for a statewide lottery.

Siegelman was also found guilty of a separate charge of obstruction of justice. Siegelman’s former chief of staff, Paul Hamrick, and his former transportation director, Mack Roberts, were also charged, but were found not guilty.

The verdict has continued to dominate news coverage as Siegelman and Scrushy have sought a new trial, claiming that jurors communicated with each other by e-mail during the trial, in violation of the orders of Fuller, and that they used material from the Internet during deliberations.

In December, Fuller denied the request for a new trial, ruling that juror activities on computers did not warrant throwing out the convictions. Fuller said he would not set sentencing until he rules on an earlier motion that challenged the makeup of the jury pool from which members of the grand jury that indicted Siegelman and Scrushy were chosen.

Attorneys say they plan to appeal the convictions to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after Siegelman and Scrushy are sentenced. Siegelman attorney Vince Kilborn said if the guilty verdicts are upheld it could open the door for aggressive prosecutors to go after any politician who gave a state position or contract to a contributor.

University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart said the conviction will cause political leaders to be more careful “when they do something that appears to be quid pro quo.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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