Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama’s senior congressional Democrat, has recommended a Montgomery lawyer for U.S. Attorney in the state’s Middle District, reports The Associated Press.
Davis, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said on Thursday he is backing George Beck Jr., 68, a white-collar defense lawyer at Capell & Howard and former state prosecutor. Earlier this month, we reported that Beck was the front-runner for the Middle District post, which is based in Montgomery.
Beck is the third lawyer Davis has recommended for the job. Over the summer, the White House eliminated defense lawyers Joe Van Heest of Montgomery and Michel Nicrosi of Mobile, who ran into opposition from the state’s Republican senators.
U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, a Bush appointee, continues to serve, nearly a year into the Obama administration. Alabama Democrats have accused her of bringing politically motivated cases, including the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D). Canary has said the criticism is without merit.
This report was corrected to reflect that the Middle District is based in Montgomery.
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The White House is having trouble finding a replacement for controversial U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in Alabama’s Middle District, having considered and discarded three candidates over the last year, according to Alabama Democrats.
Both Republicans and Democrats have objected to different candidates, and the White House has been unwilling to cross the state’s powerful GOP senators, according to a Democrat who has spoken to administration officials about the matter. The result has been the continued service of Canary, a bête noire of Alabama Democrats for her prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D), while the administration now considers a fourth candidate.
Over the summer, the White House eliminated white-collar defense lawyer Joe Van Heest of Montgomery, even though he’d already been fully vetted, the Alabama Democrats said.
Van Heest met objections from Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking member of the Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee. Shelby had also helped thwart the original candidate for the job, Mobile-based lawyer Michel Nicrosi, the Democrats said. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also opposed Nicrosi.
Then, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Birmingham-based Northern District briefly emerged as a front-runner, only to be shot down by Alabama Democrats who said her past work on politically controversial prosecutions disqualified her.
Last month, Main Justice provided an accounting of U.S. Attorney nominations. The figures — President Barack Obama has nominated 42 U.S. Attorneys, and 31 have been confirmed — painted a picture of a process beset by political interference and a White House counsel’s office in flux. (The latter problem may be solved, with the arrival of White House counsel Bob Bauer, but only time will tell.)
Alabama’s Middle District provides an interesting case study: Republican and Democratic opposition, combined with a hands-off White House, has so gummed up the process, there have been four U.S. Attorney front-runners since the summer – but zero nominations.
Shelby’s objections to Van Heest, as we reported in July, appeared to be related to his efforts to promote the daughter of a political supporter for the job. Shelby pushed Anna Clark Morris for the prosecutor post, Alabama officials and lawyers told Main Justice over the summer. Morris, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District, is the daughter of influential trial lawyer and Shelby supporter Larry Morris. Neither Shelby’s office nor Van Heest returned phone calls seeking comment.
Both Nicrosi and Van Heest enjoyed the support of Rep. Artur Davis, the state’s senior congressional Democrat, and they both reached the interview-at-the-Justice-Department stage of the process before the White House eliminated them. Nicrosi was the first choice of a selection committee formed Davis; Van Heest was the second. Click here and here for a more background on their candidacies.
After Van Heest, according to the Democrat with knowledge of the selection process, several individuals were approached about the job, including two state circuit judges, a former federal magistrate judge, and a former president of the Alabama state bar. All declined to throw in their hats — though it’s not clear why. (An indictment of the current process, perhaps?)
At one point, there was an effort to build some support around Montgomery-based lawyer Ed Parish Jr., the knowledgeable Democrat said. But Davis and others raised objections about Parish’s lack of criminal experience.
In the fall, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamarra Matthews Johnson, 35, of Alabama’s Northern District, emerged as the new front-runner. It’s not clear who recommended her for the post. The knowledgeable Democrat said she applied directly to the White House. Johnson declined to comment.
In any event Johnson, a former clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, wasn’t expected encounter opposition from Sessions and Shelby, the knowledgeable Democrat said.
But she could not overcome her work on corruption cases against Democrats, including the prosecution of Siegelman for alleged bid-rigging. The case, which was overseen by Birmingham-based U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, another villian of the Left, was eventually thrown out. (Siegelman was later indicted and convicted in the Montgomery-based Middle District, on Canary’s turf.)
Democrats have long-maintained the Siegelman cases were politically motivated.
Johnson also worked on the Justice Department’s case against Richard Scrushy, the former chief executive of HealthSouth, who was acquitted in 2005 of masterminding a $2.7 billion accounting fraud. But in 2006, Scrushy was convicted in the Middle District of paying $500,000 to Siegelman in return for a seat on the state hospital regulatory board.
Amid a groundswell of Democratic opposition – Johnson was referred to as a “rabid, right-wing Republican” in one anyonmous quote that gained purchase in the blogosphere, though she and her husband are Democratic donors – Davis approached the White House. The congressman warned that her nomination would generate a backlash, the knowledgeable Democrat said.
The White House, which thus far has been loath to mix it up with Republicans over U.S. Attorney nominations, tread at least as carefully with Democrats, and Johnson’s candidacy dissolved.
The new front-runner, the official said, is George Beck Jr., 68, a white-collar defense lawyer at Capell & Howard and former state prosecutor. Davis recently passed his named to the White House, the official said, but it appears his candidacy will be anything but tidy.
Even if he satisfies the state’s Republican senators, he’ll have to assuage Democrats. Like Johnson, he also was involved in the Siegelman case as a lawyer for government witness Nick Bailey, an ex-aide to the governor who was sentenced to 18 months in prison on bribery-related charges. Bailey, one of the government’s star witnesses, testified in three trials and submitted to more than 40 interviews with federal investigators.
Beck, others noted, also defended Guy Hunt, the first Republican governor of Alabama since Reconstruction, who was convicted of illegaly diverting and spending money raised for his 1987 inauguration.
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Former federal prosecutor and tax-fraud expert Michel Nicrosi on Thursday will file papers with the Alabama Secretary of State to run for the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General, The Associated Press reports. She told The AP she wants the job because the office needs a prosecutor and not a politician.
Nicrosi had been mentioned earlier this year as a possible nominee for U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. She was the first choice of a selection committee formed by Democratic Rep. Artur Davis. But she didn’t have the support of Alabama Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby.
The White House instead has vetted Joseph P. Van Heest, a criminal defense attorney in Montgomery, for the job. Van Heest was Davis’s second choice. But his nomination has been held up for months over objections from Shelby, who reportedly supports the daughter of a friend and political support for the Middle District instead.
Check out our previous report here.
Nicrosi, who previously was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Mobile, where she is now in private practice, successfully defended a top aide to former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) against racketeering charges.
The only other Democrat to announce a Secretary of State candidacy is former state Democratic chairman Giles Perkins. Two other Democrats have been mentioned as possible candidates for the nomination: attorney James Anderson and Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall.
On the GOP side, current Attorney General Troy King plans to run for re-election. He will face Luther Strange, a Republican activist who also sought the post in 2006.
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The Justice Department opposes an appeal from former Alabama Democratic Gov.Don Siegelman for the Supreme Court to reconsider his 2006 conviction on corruption charges, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
Siegelman, who is out on bond pending his appeal, is asking the Supreme Court to review an earlier decision by a federal court in Alabama that let most of his conviction stand. Siegelman, who served as governor from 1999-2003, was sentenced in 2006 to seven years in a federal prison on bribery and mail fraud charges brought by Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. Canary still serves in that post, as a holdover from the Bush administration, while the Obama administration works on getting its own nominee in place. Her then-counterpart in the Northern District of Alabama, Bush U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, also pursued charges against Siegelman, but was unsuccessful.
Members of Congress and 44 former state attorneys general have questioned the conviction, which many critics have claimed was the politically motivated work of then-Bush aide Karl Rove and other Republican officials. We reported last month that the Justice Department Office of Special Counsel found no evidence to support a whistleblower’s claims that the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Alabama acted inappropriately in the prosecution of the former governor and his co-defendant, former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy, who is serving a sentence of almost seven years arising from the 2006 conviction.
Siegelman and Scrushy have maintained their innocence. Their attorneys have argued that donations the health care business executive made to the then-governor’s lottery fund and Scrushy’s later appointment to the Alabama health board wasn’t criminal, just ordinary politics.
DOJ recommended that the Supreme Court not hear the appeal, court papers filed Friday night said, according to the AP.
“Under a standard that requires not just a quid pro quo, but one that is verbally spelled out with all ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed, all but the most careless public officials will be able to avoid criminal liability for exchanging official action for campaign contributions,” the DOJ argued, according to the AP.
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The Office of Special Counsel says in a new report it found no evidence to support a whistle-blower’s claims that the U.S. Attorney’s office for Middle District of Alabama acted inappropriately in its public corruption prosecution of former Gov. Donald E. Siegelman (D) and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.
The OSC launched the investigation following allegations by Tamarah Grimes, a former paralegal in the office, who alleged officials in the district did not report improper jury communications, among other things. The OSC is an independent agency with jurisdiction only to look into Grimes’s claims that she was retaliated against as a whistle-blower. She was fired in July, which she said was due to her attempt to expose the misconduct – a claim the DOJ denied.
Grimes also claimed the Middle District caused the government to incur unnecessary costs due to gross mismanagement. She said victim impact funds were misused and that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary abused her authority by obstructing an Office of Personal Responsibility investigation into the conduct of Assistant U.S. Attorney Randolph Neely. She also said officials launched a DOJ Office of Inspector General investigation into her conduct following her whistle-blowing.
Then-Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey ordered an investigation, which was headed by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis and conducted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ronald R. Gallegos of Arizona and Steven K. Mullins of the Western District of Oklahoma. After DOJ determined Grimes’ claims were unfounded, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and House Judiciary commercial and administration law subcommittee Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) requested an additional investigation.
The second investigation by OSC “confirmed DOJ’s initial investigation findings that no improper communication with the jury occurred,” according to this analysis of disclosures, agency investigations and reports, by William E. Reukauf, associate special counsel at OSC. The report is broken into eight parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8. Reukauf signed off on the second investigation in a letter to President Obama.
Siegelman argues he was targeted for prosecution for political reasons. He has appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court.
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The office of Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance rejected allegations that some of its prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory information about a government contractor, according to a motion filed today.
The U.S. Attorney’s office urged the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama to deny a motion for criminal sanctions against former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and government employees involved with the investigation and prosecution of Defense Department contractor Alex Latifi.
Lawyers for Latifi said Martin and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys should be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating their Brady obligations by withholding information from the defense. Read our previous report about the defense team’s motion here.
“[The defense team's] accusations are serious because the penalties for criminal contempt— fines, imprisonment, or both — are serious,” Vance wrote in a court filing today. “But those penalties are not warranted just because [they] have requested them.”
Latifi, CEO of military parts manufacturer Axion Corp., was acquitted in October 2007 of charges he violated the Arms Export Control Act. Prosecutors alleged that Latifi falsified a report to the Defense Department and sent a drawing of a Black Hawk helicopter part to China.
The Latifi legal team of Henry Frohsin, James Barger Jr. and J. Elliott Walthall from Frohsin & Barger said they have “explicit, unequivocal evidence” that Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Estes and Angela Debro and Army investigators David Balwinski and Marcus Mills allegedly conspired with trial witness James Oglesby to conceal evidence and defraud the court.
Latifi’s lawyers said a series of e-mails between the prosecution and a lawyer for Oglesby’s employer, metal manufacturer Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, purportedly contradict Oglesby’s testimony and allegedly show a conspiracy by the government. Oglesby was a plant manager for the Tungsten Products unit of Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, which did business with Latifi.
Oglesby’s testimony was central to the false report charge, the defense team said. The e-mails — which include Tungsten Products records previously unknown to the defense — were obtained last month through a related lawsuit.
“The … e-mails demonstrate that the government was well aware of the import of these documents and was desperate to have them explained before the trial,” the defense motion said. “Yet, upon receiving whatever explanation was forthcoming, the Government elected to bury this evidence. Instead, the government called Oglesby not once, but twice, to offer misleading half-truths as well as outright lies.”
Vance wrote in her court filing today that the defense team’s claims were “little more than speculation.” Martin told Main Justice earlier this month that the motion from Latifi’s lawyers was “baseless.”
DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility is already investigating a complaint from Latifi that prosecutors mishandled the case. Vance wrote in the filing that OPR was “an appropriate forum” for reviewing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Some Alabama lawyers have raised questions about whether politics motivated the prosecution against the Iranian-born Latifi, who has donated money to Democrats.
Martin’s critics have accused her of targeting Democrats, including ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D) in a bid-rigging case. Her office dropped the case after a judge barred crucial evidence. Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, however, later successfully prosecuted Siegelman on corruption charges. The former governor is attempting to appeal his conviction, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Martin, who served as Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney from 2001 to June 2009, has denied the allegations.
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Northern District of Alabama prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory information about a government contractor who stood trial in 2007 on arms control charges, defense lawyers said in a court filing last week, citing newly disclosed emails.
Lawyers for Alex Latifi wrote in a motion filed Sept. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama that former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys violated their Brady obligations by withholding information from the defense. Latifi was acquitted in October 2007 of charges that he violated the Arms Export Control Act.
Prosecutors alleged that Latifi falsified a report to the Defense Department and sent a drawing of a Black Hawk helicopter part to China. He is CEO of Axion Corp., which manufactured military equipment, including Humvee machine-gun mounts. Axion has struggled to secure contracts since the case was brought.
The defense team of Henry Frohsin, James Barger Jr. and J. Elliott Walthall from Frohsin & Barger said they have “explicit, unequivocal evidence” that Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Estes and Angela Debro and Army investigators David Balwinski and Marcus Mills allegedly conspired with trial witness James Oglesby to conceal evidence and defraud the court.
“All of these individuals sought to present false evidence to the court with the hope of convicting defendants of a crime they knew defendants had not committed,” the defense filing says.
The testimony of Oglesby, a plant manager for the Tungsten Products unit of metal manufacturer Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, was central to the false report charge, the defense team said. Oglesby told the Army investigators that Axion did not receive parts from Tungsten Products until January 2004, and that if Latifi said otherwise he was “lying,” according to court documents.
The defense lawyers said a series of e-mails about the purportedly false report contradict Oglesby’s testimony and allegedly show of a conspiracy by the government. The e-mails were obtained last month through a related lawsuit.
The government did not disclose to the defense that there were Tungsten Products records endorsed by Oglesby that contradicted his testimony, the motion said. The defense said it was not made aware of alleged conversations between Debro and Oglesby about the records before the trial began, according to the motion, which cited emails between the prosecution and a lawyer for Allegheny Technologies Incorporated.
“The … e-mails demonstrate that the government was well aware of the import of these documents and was desperate to have them explained before the trial,” the motion said. “Yet, upon receiving whatever explanation was forthcoming, the Government elected to bury this evidence. Instead, the government called Oglesby not once, but twice, to offer misleading half-truths as well as outright lies.”
Frohsin told Main Justice that the actions allegedly perpetrated by the government in his client’s case “cannot be condoned in our society.”
“We think that the pending charges are extremely serious,” Frohsin said.
Martin’s successor, Joyce Vance, has been ordered by the court to respond to the motion by Sept. 28.
Vance’s office emailed the following statement to Main Justice:
This office recently learned that defense counsel for former defense contractor Alexander Latifi and his company, Axion Corporation, intended to file accusations against former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and two current assistant U.S. attorneys, as well as two U.S. Army criminal investigators and a prosecution witness, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said.
Latifi and Axion were indicted and subsequently acquitted in a 2007 trial.
This filing by defense counsel is, of course, an advocate’s point of view, Vance said. The United States will file its response, as ordered by the court, within 14 days, explaining why we disagree with defense counsel’s interpretation of events, she said.
Martin told Main Justice the motion is “baseless” and that she will file a written response with the court. The former U.S. Attorney added in a brief interview that she has no regrets about the case.
The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility is currently reviewing an earlier complaint from defense lawyers regarding a meeting Martin attended in which AUSA Estes allegedly said: ”We don’t care if Latifi is innocent. Our goal is to put him out of business,” according to an ABA Journal report.
Some Alabama lawyers have raised questions about whether politics motivated the prosecution against Latifi.
The Internal Revenue Service investigated Latifi for a donation he made in 2005 to an an Iranian charity for medical evacuation helicopters. Latifi, a naturalized American citizen who was born in Iran, pledged the money because he had a nephew who was unable to make it to a hospital in time, the ABA Journal reported.
Jerome Gabig, Latifi’s business lawyer, told the ABA Journal in an October 2008 interview that the “check rang warning bells with Dave Estes at exactly the wrong moment.” There were heightened concerns about national security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Barger also told the ABA Journal last year that the first entry in the lead investigator’s official notebook identified Latifi’s political affiliation and said that he “gave $30,000 to a Democratic politician’s charity for abused children.”
Martin’s critics have accused her of targeting Democrats. Matin, who served as Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney from 2001 to June 2009, has denied the allegations.
One controversy involved her attempt to prosecute ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D) in a bid-rigging case, which her office dropped after a judge barred crucial evidence. Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, however, later successfully prosecuted Siegelman on corruption charges. The former governor is attempting to appeal his conviction, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Vance became the interim U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in June, two months before she was confirmed by the Senate. Martin told Main Justice in June that the Obama administration did not force her out early, and that she recommended Vance to be her successor. Vance was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and head of the appellate section in the Birmingham office.
Attorney General Eric Holder made a special trip to attend Vance’s swearing in ceremony last month and kissed her on the cheek at the event.
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Joyce Vance took the oath as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama this afternoon before more than 300 people including 42 judges and Attorney General Eric Holder, a Vance spokesperson said today.
Holder did not speak at the event, though he kissed Vance after the ceremony when she gave him a copy of what’s known as the Birmingham Pledge — a vow to treat all people with respect, The Associated Press reported.
The ceremony was held at the Robert S. Vance Federal Building, named after her father-in-law, a federal appeals court judge on the 11th circuit who was murdered in 1989 after he opened a nail-bomb package mailed to his home. His widow, Helen, was in attendance, according to The AP.
The Senate confirmed Vance as U.S. Attorney earlier this month. She had been interim U.S. Attorney since June, when former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin resigned. Martin had a tumultuous tenure as U.S. Attorney and was criticized by the Left for trying to go after ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D).
We previously reported that Vance came back from her U.S. Attorney interview in Washington carrying two framed portraits of Holder and President Obama, after Martin didn’t immediately hang their portraits in the office. (Martin told us in an interview she’d sent the portraits out to be framed, and that she intended to hang them as soon as they were returned).
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Attorney General Eric Holder will attend the swearing in of Joyce Vance as Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney, The Birmingham News reported today.
Vance is special for several reasons. One, she is widely admired in the Alabama legal community. Two, she is the daughter-in-law of the late Robert Smith Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, who was murdered in 1989 after he opened a mail-bomb package mailed to his home by a man who also targeted the NAACP.
Three, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and head of the appellate section in the Birmingham-based office, Vance suffered for years under the tumultuous reign of Alice Martin, the recently resigned Bush-appointed prosecutor criticized by the Left for trying to go after ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D). Martin tried to sideline her perceived rival by shuffling the aggressive prosecutor off into the appellate section, and move that backfired. (For more background, click here to read our previous report, “Martin: I Was Not Pushed Out.”)
Oh, and don’t forget: Holder’s late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, was one of two of the first African Americans to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963, only to be blocked by then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace. And for good measure, we’ll recall how Vance came back from her U.S. Attorney interview in Washington carrying two framed portraits of Holder and President Barack Obama, after Martin didn’t immediately hang their portraits in the office. (Martin told us in an interview she’d sent the portraits out to be framed, and that she intended to hang them as soon as they were returned).
Will Holder be present at the ceremonies for the other U.S. Attorneys confirmed with Vance last Friday? They include Tristram Coffin (Vermont), Preet Bharara (Southern District of New York), B. Todd Jones (Minnesota) and John Kacavas (New Hampshire)?
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Vance will be sworn in Aug. 27 at the Robert S. Vance Federal Building, named after her father-in-law and the former federal judge, according to the newspaper. She has been the interim U.S. Attorney for the office since June 19, when Martin resigned.
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.
DOJ spokesperson Hannah August said Holder’s upcoming visit to the Northern District of Alabama is part of an ongoing effort by the Attorney General to personally reach out to the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices.
“The Attorney General is making it a priority to visit U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country to personally meet with prosecutors and other staff to hear firsthand about the cases they’re working on, the issues they face, and ways in which he can help them do their jobs,” August wrote in an e-mail. “The visit to the Northern District of Alabama was made to coincide with U.S. Attorney Vance’s swearing-in.”
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President Obama’s intended nominee for the Montgomery-based Middle District of Alabama is all vetted and ready to go. But you didn’t see white collar criminal defense lawyer Joe Van Heest on the list of new nominees released by the White House Friday.
The reason: Objections from Republican Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), two Democrats close to the nominating process recently told me.
As a result, controversial U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, whose office prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) on political corruption charges, will likely cling to office a bit longer while the Shelby spat gets sorted out.
Shelby’s office didn’t return phone calls seeking comment. A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, declined to comment. Van Heest, who practices in Montgomery, did not respond to a request for comment.
As far as we can tell, Shelby’s goal isn’t to prolong the tenure of Canary, who hasn’t taken the hint and resigned yet. Canary, of course, is accused of helping send the popular Siegelman to prison on bogus charges so he couldn’t run for office again. Canary is married to GOP political operative Bill Canary, who was reportedly close to Karl Rove.
Rather, Shelby’s objections appear to be related to his campaign to promote the daughter of a political supporter for the job, Alabama Democrats say.
Shelby has backed Anna Clark Morris for the position, Alabama officials and lawyers have told me. Morris is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District office and the daughter of influential trial lawyer Larry Morris, the Shelby supporter.
Morris, of Morris, Haynes & Hornsby in Birmingham, also has built good relations with both Democrats and Republicans. And Shelby, of course, is himself is a former Democrat and a trial lawyer.
A local Democratic patronage committee had recommended Anna Clark Morris for the job, but according to a high-ranking Democratic official with knowledge of the process, she hasn’t been vetted by the White House and won’t be nominated.
Another name floated for the position is Montgomery Presiding Circuit Court Judge Charles Price. Price is African American and would add diversity (Van Heest is white). But Price isn’t a contender, Democrats close to the process tell me, despite Price’s recent quotes in this piece in the Montgomery Independent suggesting he’s interested.
Van Heest was the second choice for the Middle District put forward by Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who as the state’s senior congressional Democrat has been making recommendations to the White House. Davis’s first choice for the job was former federal prosecutor Michel Nicrosi, now in the corporate compliance and white collar defense section of Jones Walker in Mobile. But both Shelby and Alabama’s other Republican senator, Jeff Sessions, objected to Nicrosi, and the White House eliminated her from contention weeks ago. Read our previous report on Nicrosi here.
The odd thing about the Van Heest nomination is how defential the White House is apparently being to Shelby. We know the White House doesn’t want any controversy (ie: no senatorial “blue slips” filed against their nominees.) But in Van Heest, the administration has a guy who’s ready to go – and who would replace one of the bête noires of the Left. The George W. Bush White House would have just rolled any Democrats who tried to object to their nominees – and they didn’t have a 60-vote supermajority in 2001.