News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Timing of Siegelman indictment suspect

Corrupt public officials are vile humans because they prey on the fabric of democracy.

Equally repugnant are public officials who use their offices to shortcut the democratic process that some 2,000 American soldiers have died trying to instill in Iraqis.

Thus the news out of Montgomery this week that a federal grand jury in the state capital indicted former Gov. Don Siegelman on a bushel of criminal charges should make the public a bit more jaded about how their government really works.

Mr. Siegelman, the grand jury said, teamed with his former top aide Paul Hamrick, Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth, and former state Transportation Director Mack Roberts to violate racketeering laws.

Mr. Siegelman has been out of office for nearly three years now, long past the time needed to build a case for a grand jury. But the indictments by Republican prosecutors come at a critical time when Mr. Siegelman is attempting to raise funds to run for governor again next year as a Democrat.

The indictments come a year after a federal judge threw out a charge that accused the former governor and Mr. Hamrick of rigging Medicaid contract bids. In that case, a Birmingham grand jury handed down the indictments.

In the meantime, each occasion when Mr. Siegelman indicated he might seek election after his narrow and controversial defeat in 2002, the Montgomery prosecutors stirred, like an inactive volcano. The threat was always there for Mr. Siegelman that, if he ran, he risked indictment.

He may be guilty as charged. If so, he needs to pay the penalty. But the hardball politics in manipulating the timing of the indictments stinks. It suggests the prosecutors are more interested in keeping Mr. Siegelman out of the governor's office than they are in serving justice. If not, the indictments would have come long before he announced his candidacy.

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