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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Harpers: Give former state Sen. Charles Walker justice

click to enlarge Charles Walker
  • Charles Walker

To longtime observers of Georgia politics, the name Charles Walker should ring a bell.

An Augusta newspaper publisher and Democrat, Walker in 1996 became the first African-American in the United States to be elected state Senate Majority Leader. He also helped fight the legendary battle to remove the Confederate emblem from the Georgia flag. (Also interesting: In 2002, former CL editor Ken Edelstein noted the possible role played by Walker — whom Edelstein referred to as "a brutal power monger with many ethical lapses" — in Gov. Sonny Perdue's metamorphosis from a donkey to an elephant.)

Walker, however, wasn't an angel. In 2005, he was convicted on 127 counts which included conspiracy and mail fraud. Today he sits in South Carolina's Estill Federal Correctional Institute, serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Supporters of the former state lawmaker — who was so popular in his district that he regained his Senate seat in 2004 after he was indicted — say he was the victim of a political vendetta and a casualty of the U.S. Justice Department under former President George W. Bush. They want him to receive a new trial.

Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine, who wrote about Walker in 2007, brings us up to date in a blog post on the controversial figure's latest effort to appeal his conviction.

In March, the former state lawmaker appealed his conviction and sentence on the grounds that his first legal team was ineffective. Walker said his defense failed to ask the federal judge who presided over the criminal trial — and who was assigned to hear Walker's recent appeal — to recuse himself from the case. (In 1979, the former state lawmaker opposed that judge's nomination to the bench.)  Horton posts a May 18 order in which the judge acknowledged as much.

Horton continues that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should go one step further and dismiss the former state lawmaker's conviction.

The conviction of Charles Walker stands, but with the prosecutor who brought the case removed for political shenanigans and the federal judge who presided over it now out because of an open appearance of bias, the conviction looks increasingly unsupportable. The appropriate step at this point is not a new trial. It would be for Eric Holder to intervene as he did in the [Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens] case and insist on the dismissal of the conviction in the interests of justice.

(Photo by Jim Stawniak)

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