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Request denied for 514 pages on recusal in Siegelman case

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — An attorney for former Gov. Don Siegelman says he believes the U.S. Justice Department will eventually be forced to release 514 pages of documents concerning the recusal of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in 2002 from the federal investigation of Siegelman.

"There will be a day when we get every one of those 514 documents. They can drag their feet, but we are going to get them," Siegelman attorney Vince Kilborn of Mobile said Friday.

The Justice Department has refused to release the 514 pages to Alabaster attorney John Aaron, who represented Siegelman's 2006 campaign for governor.

Initially told there were no documents, Aaron appealed. The Justice Department then said it had 516 pages related to the case but would only release two — Canary's 2002 news release announcing her recusal.

Aaron declined to comment Friday on the Justice Department's refusal to release the documents and referred questions to Kilborn.

Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were convicted last year of bribery and other charges. Siegelman is serving a more than seven-year sentence at the federal prison in Oakdale, La. and Scrushy is serving an almost seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas.

Canary announced her recusal in 2002 after Siegelman attorney David Johnson questioned the U.S. attorney's impartiality, citing her husband Bill Canary's work as a Republican political consultant. At the time, the Justice Department denied there was a conflict of interest, but said Canary was stepping down "out of an abundance of caution."

Kilborn asked Friday why it would have taken 516 pages of documents to come to the decision that Canary should recuse herself.

"I know why it took 514 pages. It's because it was not a routine decision," Kilborn said.

"How stupid does the government think we are to be satisfied with a five-year-old press release?" Kilborn said.

Canary declined Friday to say what documents were included in the 514 pages.

"I know what was in my file," Canary said, but declined to discuss the file further.

"I followed department procedure and did what I was supposed to do. I have been recused from the case since May, 2002," Canary said.

Canary said the Justice Department did not ask her opinion on what documents to release.

"I did not participate in that process," Canary said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington said he had no information about the request to release the documents.

The federal Freedom of Information Act allows agencies to withhold interagency memorandums that would not be available to anyone except those involved in litigation with a department or agency, and "personnel and medical files and similar files" whose release would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Both were cited by the Justice Department in denying the records request from Aaron.

The Siegelman investigation was eventually headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin, a career prosecutor.

Franklin said Friday he has no idea what might have been in the documents being withheld by the Justice Department.

"I don't know what's in those pages. It didn't concern me at the time," Franklin said. He said when he took over the case his only concern was continuing the investigation.

But he said there was nothing sinister about Canary's recusal.

"She was told she did not have a conflict. She simply recused herself to avoid the appearance of impropriety," Franklin said.

Aaron filed another appeal in July, after the Justice Department's latest refusal to release the records. He argued in his letter to the department that Canary had outlined her reasons for recusal at a 2002 news conference.

"There could not be an invasion of privacy since the reason for her recusal given at her press conference should be the same as those on the documents listed," Aaron wrote.

During the trial of Siegelman and Scrushy last summer, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller upheld a prosecution motion that prevented the defense from raising questions about political motivation during the trial.

Kilborn said he wishes he had known at the time about the 514 pages concerning Canary's recusal.

"If there were 514 documents floating around then, we could have used them in our arguments," Kilborn said.

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

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