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Transcript delays appeal in Siegelman verdict

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The wheels of justice are moving slowly in the case of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

It has been almost a year and a half since they were found guilty on June 29, 2006, of bribery and other charges in a government corruption case, and more than four months since they were hauled off to federal prison in shackles at the end of a sentencing hearing.

But their formal appeal has yet to begin.

The bulky transcript from the two-month-long trial has not been completed and must be available before attorneys for Siegelman and Scrushy can appeal the convictions to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The delay was caused partly by the death earlier this year of Jimmy Dickens, the court reporter who recorded the trial, which included dozens of witnesses and mounds of physical evidence.

Siegelman and Scrushy have asked the appellate court to release them from prison while they are waiting for a final decision on the appeal — a decision Siegelman's attorneys say might be a year or even two years away.

Siegelman attorney Vince Kilborn said the delay in the appeal adds to his argument that the former governor should be out of prison while the sentence is appealed.

"I'm firmly convinced the 11th Circuit is going to reverse this case. The travesty is that we've got an innocent client sitting in federal prison with no hearing in sight on his appeal," Kilborn said.

Kilborn said it's not unusual for an appeal to take up to a year after it's filed and possibly as long as two years in a complicated case like the conviction of Siegelman and Scrushy. He said it's impossible for attorneys to write an appeal without being able to refer to the actual transcript.

The 11th Circuit judges have set a Dec. 31 deadline for the transcript to be completed.

Chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said the transcript is required before the case file can be certified that it's ready for appeal.

Scrushy attorney Art Leach declined to discuss the appeals process, but said Scrushy's motion seeking release on appeal bond included that his client shouldn't have to sit in prison during the protracted appeals process.

Leach said he doesn't expect it will take too long to prepare the appeal once the transcript is complete because many of the arguments of why Scrushy's conviction should be overturned were made in the motion seeking release on appeal bond.

University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart said the delay in the appeal could be particularly difficult because Siegelman and Scrushy are already in prison.

"Every day that they are in jail when the appellate court might rule they shouldn't be, it's one more day of suffering," said Stewart, who attended some of the trial.

Stewart said in a complicated case like this one, it's particularly important for appellate judges to review the transcript.

"That's the key thing you need to review. You can't rely on newspaper reports. You have to have the exact transcript that the court reporter wrote down," Stewart said.

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

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