For justice to be equal, it must be consistent

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 8, 2007

Whether former Gov. Don Siegelman is guilty of charges that put him behind bars in the federal prison system is not the issue here.

A jury, after weeks of testimony, said he was and that's the opinion that matters most.

Whether his sentence of seven plus years for allegedly accepting bribe money and violating his oath of office is reasonable may well depend on your political persuasion and your perception of his accomplishments in office - attorney general, secretary of state, lieutenant governor and governor — weighed against his shortcomings. Response to The Advocate's web site poll seems to agree it is appropriate punishment.

But there should be legitimate debate related to the consistency of that punishment, especially in light of President Bush's decision to spare former White House aide Lewis &#8220Scooter” Libby from a 2-1/2- year prison term for his role in a CIA-leak criminal case.

Siegelman and fellow defendant Richard Scrushy were both sent to prison in shackles immediately after their sentencing was rendered by Judge Mark Fuller. Libby, former chief of staff to embattled Vice President Dick Cheney, was allowed to remain free after his March sentencing by Judge Reggie Walton, also in federal court.

Siegelman and Scrushy are now in prison, awaiting assignment to permanent sites of incarceration while their attorneys develop avenues of appeal. Libby, by virtue of the President's commutation, escapes all prison time.

That sort of inconsistency merits an inquiry of its own, one that evaluates the impact of political pressure and justice in high profile white collar crimes.