Leura Canary, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, wrote press releases about the prosecution of Gov. Don Siegelman that were distributed under the signature of assistant prosecutor Louis Franklin. Also, Canary regularly had two assistants communicate her suggestions about Siegelman’s case to Franklin.
All of this took place after Canary had announced her recusal from the Siegelman case. And they are two of many stark examples of prosecutorial misconduct outlined in a letter dated June 1, 2009, from whistleblower Tamarah Grimes to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Eight days after writing the letter, Grimes was fired from her position as a paralegal for the Department of Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. So far, there is no indication that Holder has taken any action in the matter.
The complete Grimes letter can be viewed here.
Grimes tells Holder that Canary’s recusal claims were false regarding the prosecution of Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in what became known as “The Big Case” in the Montgomery office. Patricia Snyder Watson, the district ethics officer and first assistant U.S. attorney, was a frequent conduit of information to and from Canary. Writes Grimes:
Mrs. Canary publicly stated that she maintained a “firewall” between herself and The Big Case. In reality, there was no “firewall.” Mrs. Canary maintained direct communication with the prosecution team, directed some actions in the case, and monitored the case through members of the prosecution team and Mrs. Watson.
Grimes said she regularly raised concerns with Watson about misconduct among prosecutors on the Siegelman case–to little effect:
Mrs. Watson advised me that The Big Case was the most important case in the office and that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary would grant prosecutors virtually unlimited latitude to obtain a conviction. Mrs. Watson told me that as a paralegal, I did not have standing to question the actions of a federal prosecutor, and that if Mrs. Canary found out that I had done so, I would certainly be disciplined for insubordination.
With the threat of disciplinary action hanging over her head, Grimes tried to ignore the misconduct. But it was hard to ignore overt negotiations of proposed testimony of key cooperating witnesses Nick Bailey and Lanny Young. The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen P. Feaga, instructed investigators to meet with Bailey and Young frequently. Writes Grimes:
Mr. Feaga instructed the investigators how to approach the cooperating witnesses on a particular subject and specified what he needed the witness to say in order to support his prosecutorial theory. For instance, Mr. Feaga would say, “See if you can get him to say it like this . . . , ” “Ask him if he is comfortable saying it like this . . . ,” or “I need him to say it like this . . . .” The investigators would return from meeting with the cooperating witnesses to report to Mr. Feaga, who would send the investigators back with new instructions.
Grimes said she was not the only person concerned about prosecutors’ creative approach to the facts of the case:
I recall one of the investigators, FBI agent Keith Baker, commented on the conduct by saying, “There is truth, there are facts, and then there are “Feaga facts.”
“Feaga facts” apparently were present in what proved to be the key testimony against Siegelman and Scrushy:
I particularly recall one meeting in which cooperating witness Nick Bailey was persuaded to recall something that he claimed he did not actually recollect. The matter concerned a meeting between Governor Siegelman and Richard Scrushy, a check and supposed conversation, which eventually led to the convictions in The Big Case. Mr. Bailey repeatedly said he did not know and he was not sure. The prosecutors coaxed and pressured Mr. Bailey to “remember” their version of alleged events. Mr. Bailey appeared apprehensive and hesitant to disappoint the prosecutors.
After reading Grimes’ stunning letter to Holder, we are left with numerous questions, but these two jump out at us:
How could convictions possibly stand when the key witness clearly was coaxed into making statements regarding events that he did not actually recall?
Tamarah Grimes was fired eight days after writing this letter to Eric Holder. But the U.S. attorney general, our nation’s chief law-enforcement officer, apparently has done nothing about it. Why is Holder sitting on his hands when a DOJ whistleblower, who went right to the top with her concerns about prosecutorial misconduct, has clearly faced retaliation for speaking out? Does anyone in the Obama administration have a spine when it comes to matters of justice? Will anyone ever take steps to clean up the cesspool in Montgomery, Alabama?
Why has the Obama administration allowed Leura Canary to remain on the job?And here’s a really interesting question. Alabama’s two Republican U.S. senators, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, have objected to two highly-regarded nominees for the Middle District position–Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest. Why do Sessions and Shelby object so strongly to these nominees? Is it possible that a real federal prosecutor in Montgomery, Alabama, might unearth some unsavory activities related to Sessions and Shelby themselves? Why is Obama allowing Sessions and Shelby to hold the Middle District of Alabama hostage?
As John McCain once said, “Elections have consequences.” Well, Obama was elected president, and he should not allow Sessions and Shelby to hold up the appointment of a new federal prosecutor in Montgomery. He should nominate Nicrosi or Van Heest and move forward, kicking Leura Canary unceremoniously to the curb–where she belongs.
Roger Shuler, a regular contributor to The Public Record, resides in Birmingham, Alabama. A 1978 graduate of the University of Missouri, Shuler worked 11 years as a reporter and editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald before working 19 years in several editorial positions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He blogs at Legal Schnauzer.
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