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FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Siegelman deserves speedy trial, verdict before election

Federal District Judge Mark Fuller is under no obligation to get former Gov. Don Siegelman's corruption trial in Montgomery over before the June primary elections, but there is that thing in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees a speedy trial.

The judge told prospective jurors this week that the trial may not be over by Election Day. Mr. Siegelman hoped to be found not guilty by then and use the prosecution as evidence of a Republican frame-up.

Mr. Siegelman is set to go on trial May 1, along with former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, and former Siegelman cabinet members Paul Hamrick and Mack Roberts.

Government prosecutors charged that Mr. Scrushy gave the former governor a $500,000 campaign donation in exchange for a seat on a state hospital regulating board.

Pre-selected jurors are to begin hearing evidence May 1, which gives the court a little more than a month to decide the case. Granted, that's not much time for both sides to present complicated evidence and for a jury to deliberate. But Republican politics hang heavily over the case, and Mr. Siegelman continues to charge that Gov. Bob Riley's administration is plotting with Republican federal prosecutors to discredit his attempt to win back the governor's office.

Keeping the trial going past the primary voting date is one way for Republicans to discredit Mr. Siegelman with the adage that, where there is smoke, there is fire.

It will make no difference how long the trial continues if a jury finds Mr. Siegelman guilty. But if the trial continues past the June 6 primary election date and the jury finds him innocent, the Democrats will have a campaign issue of Republicans using public office to further party politics.

Republicans had rather Gov. Riley run against Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley this fall than against Mr. Siegelman, with his not-guilty verdict in hand, telling voters that Republicans tried to rig this election, too, the same thing he said they did in GOP voter-rich Baldwin County four years ago.

The judge needs to make every effort to ensure Mr. Siegelman a speedy trial in order to avoid doubts about the election process.

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