Adam Nossiter, The New York Times
New accusations have emerged during the appeal of the bribery conviction of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama that could buttress Democrats' claims that the case against him was politically tainted, even as he prepares to argue against his conviction in a federal appeals court in Atlanta early next month.
The accusations, from a Justice Department employee, suggest that the Republican United States attorney whose office prosecuted Mr. Siegelman remained substantially involved in the case, long after she insisted that she had removed herself from it because of her partisan connections.
And the formal complaints by the employee, a legal aide in the office of the United States attorney in Montgomery, Ala., have brought to light an episode in the 2006 bribery and corruption trial that Mr. Siegelman's lawyers now say could have led to a key juror's removal: flirtatious messages sent by jurors to the prosecution about the marital status of an F.B.I. agent who was working with prosecutors. Other jurors have said that they felt pressured by the judge to reach a decision in order to go home and that some jury members read about the case on the Internet during the trial.
Mr. Siegelman was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in June 2007. In March, he was ordered freed on bond after nine months in a federal penitentiary by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which cited "substantial questions" raised in his appeal.
In Washington, senior members of the House Judiciary Committee, which has been investigating the politically charged Siegelman case, have told Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey that there are now "serious questions regarding possible misconduct by the Siegelman prosecution team." They have asked him to look into the accusations, some of which were first reported by Time magazine last week.
The Justice Department investigated the issue of contact between the jury and the prosecution and dismissed it as "rumors." The Judiciary Committee, however, pointed out that investigators failed to interview key witnesses, including jurors and the United States marshals who might have been the conduits for their "social messages," in the committee's words.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the department would review the committee's response.
The prosecution, conviction and jailing of Mr. Siegelman have become the principal example of what Democrats say was the politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush years. They point to other episodes as well, including the firing of several federal prosecutors, but the Siegelman case has led to hearings and expressions of support for the former governor from dozens of former state attorneys general - a position Mr. Siegelman once held in Alabama.
Mr. Siegelman was convicted principally for appointing to a state hospital board a contributor to a campaign for a state lottery.
Citing what they say was the weakness of the case and the Republican affiliations of the United States attorney in Montgomery, Democrats say Mr. Siegelman was the victim of a partisan prosecution that should not have been brought in the first place.
The United States attorney, Leura G. Canary, is married to a leading Republican in Alabama, William Canary. He has advised one of Mr. Siegelman's political rivals, Gov. Bob Riley; is a former chief of staff at the Republican National Committee; and served in the White House under former President George Bush.
It was those connections that led Ms. Canary, under pressure, to publicly withdraw from the Siegelman case in May 2002 - she "completely recused herself," said the acting United States attorney, Louis Franklin - as proof that the prosecution of Mr. Siegelman would be free of partisan bias.
Yet in her complaint, the Justice Department employee, Tamarah T. Grimes, cited several instances suggesting Ms. Canary maintained a close watch on the case. Ms. Grimes said a legal aide in the office reported on Mr. Siegelman's trial to Ms. Canary or her top deputy "every day, sometimes several times per day by telephone." Once, she observed Ms. Canary "frantically pacing in the executive suite" after a courtroom blowup, "pleading with someone" to get on the phone to "tell Louis he has to control his temper."
Ms. Grimes also disclosed an e-mail message written by Ms. Canary commenting on legal strategy in the case and suggesting to aides that Mr. Siegelman not be allowed to "comment on court activities in the media." Ms. Grimes, who is also in a dispute with the department related to her accusations that the Siegelman prosecution team had harassed her, cited the affidavit of a former legal aide in the Montgomery office, Elizabeth Jane Crooks, who wrote that "the morning that the trial started, the U.S. attorney herself carried food and beverage over to the courthouse to support the 'Trial Team.' "
Mr. Siegelman's lawyers have reacted with anger to these contentions, saying they demonstrate that Ms. Canary never really took herself out of the case. "She was supposed to be recused precisely because her involvement would reek of political conflict of interest, yet she remained involved," they wrote in a filing to the 11th Circuit court this week.
Ms. Grimes and Ms. Crooks declined to be interviewed.
In regard to jury contact, Ms. Grimes cited an e-mail message sent during the trial that appears to show a juror or jurors developing a romantic interest in an F.B.I. agent, Keith Baker, who sat near prosecutors, and sending the prosecution messages about his marital status. The Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, and the subcommittee chairwoman, Representative Linda T. S√°nchez, Democrat of California, wrote to Mr. Mukasey that the contact raised "serious issues," even though it was not reported by the prosecution to the judge in the case.
"Where a juror or jurors expresses the kind of social interest in a member of the prosecution team reflected in this exchange, the risk of bias - whether conscious or unconscious - is obvious," Mr. Conyers and Ms. S√°nchez wrote. One juror, they said, later went on to "reach out to members of the prosecution team for personal advice about her career and prosecution plans."
Many of those who have been closely following the case expect the investigations of possible improper conduct to gain momentum once the Obama administration takes over the Justice Department next year.
"I think that the case for the appellate courts will not change," said Jeffrey A. Modisett, a Democrat and a former attorney general of Indiana who was one of 44 former attorneys general who petitioned Congress to look into the Siegelman case. "But as far as the investigation as to any improper conduct by the Department of Justice and the White House, yes, it's possible it could get new life."
Robert Abrams, a former New York attorney general and a supporter of Mr. Siegelman, said the accusations would strengthen the coming appeal.
"I think those revelations are other examples of wrongdoing leading to a gross miscarriage of justice," Mr. Abrams said. "The number of examples of prosecutorial misconduct in this case is mind-boggling."
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