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Appellate judges ask trial court to decide Siegelman release

MONTGOMERY (AP)— A federal appeals court has asked a federal judge in Montgomery to decide if former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman should be released from prison while his conviction is being appealed.

Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were taken to prison immediately when U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller sentenced them in June on bribery and other charges.

Siegelman and Scrushy both appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking that they be freed on bond while their arguments to throw out the convictions are reviewed.

In a ruling released Friday, the 11th Circuit returned that issue to Fuller.

The ruling pertained only to Siegelman, but Scrushy attorney Art Leach said he expects a similar order pertaining to Scrushy shortly.

When Siegelman and Scrushy were being taken into custody by federal marshal after their sentences were announced, Fuller denied a motion from Leach that his client be released on bond pending appeal.

Siegelman attorney Susan James asked, "Can we be heard on the issue?"

Fuller did not reply, hitting his gavel to end the hearing.

Siegelman attorneys David McDonald and Vince Kilborn said Friday they see the 11th Circuit ruling as a victory for their client.

"We're confident if the facts are actually heard, Governor Siegelman will be out of prison pending appeal," McDonald said.

In their order, 11th Circuit judges Susan Black and Stanley Marcus said Fuller's actions at the sentencing hearing "may reasonably be interpreted as a finding that Siegelman was ineligible for release." But the order goes on to say that "Siegelman's motion for release raises issues which should be presented in the first instance to the trial judge."

Chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said the ruling means the appellate judges want a record of Fuller's reasons for refusing to release Siegelman. In their ruling, Black and Marcus say they will consider the appeal after Fuller has ruled on the issue.

"We maintain the position that neither Scrushy nor Siegelman qualify for release pending appeal," Franklin said. He said he doesn't believe they have raised issues that could cause them to win their appeal.

Scrushy's attorney Art Leach disagreed.

"We believe there are a number of issues that are substantial and he should be released on bond," Leach said.

Siegelman was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and is being held at the federal prison in Oakdale, La. Scrushy is in the federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, serving an almost seven-year sentence.

Siegelman and Scrushy were found guilty of participating in a scheme where Siegelman appointed Scrushy to a seat on an influential hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's 1999 campaign for a statewide lottery. Defense attorneys have said they will argue on appeal that prosecutors didn't prove that there was a specific "quid pro quo" agreement between Siegelman and Scrushy, as required in federal bribery cases.

Siegelman was also convicted of obstruction of justice for trying to cover up $9,200 given to him by a lobbyist to help him purchase a motorcycle.

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

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