State Auditor Jim Zeigler said Monday he believes the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision to overturn a prominent Virginia politician’s criminal conviction could spring former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman as well.
Saying Gov. Bob McDonnell was exonerated on charges “very close to what Siegelman was convicted of,” Zeigler said Siegelman — a longtime power broker in Montgomery and around the state — could benefit from procedural aspects of McDonnell’s case.
The high court found Monday morning that the jury that convicted McDonnell was instructed incorrectly. Specifically, the court ruled that state prosecutors interpreted a federal bribery statute too broadly, and instructed jurors to deliberate over the decision whether or not to convict McDonnell for something that may not have been technically unlawful at all.
The jury was instructed to interpret the term “public acts” to mean almost anything a governor does while in office, including setting up meetings between interests and constituents — precisely what McDonnell was convicted of doing in exchange for personal gifts from a businessman seeking access to public figures.
Zeigler sees parallels between McDonnell’s case and Siegelman’s in this regard.
Siegelman was convicted for re-appointing a hospital executive named Richard Scrushy to a state board that in part regulates hospitals, after Scrushy raised some $500,000 for a state lottery referendum at Siegelman’s request.
In doing so, under one reading of the precedent set by the McDonnell case, Siegelman may have simply carried out a “public act” in accordance with his office, one not subject to the harsh scrutiny set out under federal bribery laws.
Zeigler’s comments come amid a movement of activists in Alabama and beyond to free Seigelman.
In April, more than 100 former state attorneys general from across the country asked President Barack Obama to pardon the former governor.
In January the U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear an appeal from Siegelman, making a presidential pardon his last hope to reduce his sentence, aside from Monday’s high court ruling.
The recent conviction of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Zeigler opined, would not be affected by the recent McDonnell decision.