I’m no expert on Alabama. But something dark is going on there, some expression of the Rovian dream for America.
–Don Siegelman, Democratic governor, brings action against ExxonMobil for fraudulently underpaying oil and gas drilling royalties.
–E-M is found guilty, and a judgement of 3 billion bucks is entered against them.
–Siegelman gets indicted, convicted and imprisoned under suspicious circumstances
–The eight Republican members of the Alabama Supreme Court outvote the single Democrat and vacate the fraud verdict.
The dark forces unite. Exxon you know about.
Where does Rove come in?
Over the last fifteen years, judicial elections in Alabama have been increasingly politicized, with enormous sums of money entering the state from the national business community in an effort to seize control of the state’s courts. This money was largely channeled by the Chamber of Commerce and entities controlled by it and by the Business Council of Alabama, run by William Canary—the key figure in the scandal surrounding the politically manipulated prosecution of former Governor Siegelman.
William Canary is a campaign partner of Karl Rove’s and worked with Rove in Alabama Court politics starting with 1992; Toby Roth, the former chief of staff to Governor Bill Riley was a third member of their team. The Rove-Canary-Roth team scored a series of quite astonishing successes, and in the end it totally transformed the Alabama court landscape, starting with the state’s Supreme Court.
I have no reason to link Rove, Canary and Roth to the specific litigation between ExxonMobil and the State of Alabama in particular. But in broader terms, the ExxonMobil decision should be counted the ultimate triumph of the Rove-Canary-Roth game plan. It got the oil and gas community exactly what it was aiming for from the beginning: the elimination of punitive damage awards in commercial cases.
The eight Republican judges on Alabama’s high court who backed ExxonMobil were put in office with the money of the business community, and the money of the oil and gas community. No matter what these eight judges say and do, they have laid themselves open to the charge that they hold the interests of their corporate donors very dear, but not the interests of the people of the state of Alabama. And it’s unlikely that their electors intended that result.
Alabama’s courts and prosecutors have become a cesspool. The unjust prosecution of former Governor Siegelman is only one of the more obvious reflections of this inequity; the decision in the ExxonMobil case is just as blatant and reflects no less the stench of corruption.
Another thing troubled me about this case. When I spoke with a number of Alabama lawyers to gain their impressions about the case, several of them directly questioned the intervention of Governor Bob Riley in it. According to two lawyers, Riley insisted that the firm which handled the litigation (and which obviously did a splendid job at the trial level, though it had troubles on appeal) affiliate a second firm on the case.
According to this account, if the firm refused to cut his lawyer friends into the action, Riley suggested he would simply hire new counsel. The law firm he pressured the state’s counsel to affiliate is described as having a close relationship with the Governor’s son, a Birmingham lawyer. These dealings need to be fully explored and exposed to the light of day.
If the governor was intervening in the matter in a way calculated to produce economic benefit for his son, that would obviously raise serious ethics issues. However, in the current environment in Alabama, no misdeeds of the government are exposed in the state’s lapdog press or seriously investigated by its law enforcement agencies, which have long ceased to function as dispassionate law enforcement.
All of this is evidence of the state’s complete political putrifaction, in which courts and prosecutors have been rendered into agents of corruption rather than safeguarders of state ethics. The Siegelman case demonstrates that claims of “clean government” have been wielded fraudulently, as a cynical political tool, destroying confidence in the impartial administration of justice.