Don Siegelman

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal appeals court approved the release of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on bond Thursday while he appeals his convictions in a corruption case.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the former governor had raised "substantial questions of fact and law" in challenging his conviction, which Siegelman contends was politically motivated.

The once-popular Democrat began serving a sentence of more than seven years in June on his conviction on six bribery-related counts and one obstruction count. He has been serving the sentence at a federal prison in Oakdale, La.

The former governor's release was approved the same day the House Judiciary Committee announced it wanted Siegelman to testify before Congress about possible political influence over his prosecution.

"It's a sweet day. He's an innocent man, and he's been in prison for nine months," said Siegelman's attorney, Vince Kilborn.

Kilborn said Siegelman would be released from the Louisiana prison Friday morning after prison officials verify the court order with the 11th Circuit.

Federal prosecutors accused Siegelman, 62, of appointing Richard Scrushy, HealthSouth CEO at the time, to a hospital regulatory board in exchange for Scrushy arranging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman's campaign for a statewide lottery.

Scrushy, who was tried along with Siegelman, also was convicted on bribery counts and is serving a sentence of nearly seven years. The 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, has ruled that the multimillionaire Birmingham businessman is a potential flight risk but that Siegelman is not.

Siegelman was also convicted of a separate obstruction of justice charge concerning $9,200 he received from a lobbyist to help with the purchase of a motorcycle. His attorneys have said it was a legitimate transaction.

U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery had refused to allow Siegelman to remain free on appeal while challenging his conviction. But the 11th Circuit said Thursday he met the legal standard to be freed in the "complex and protracted" case.

The appeals process had been delayed for months after the court reporter during the trial died and the transcript was not completed as it normally would have.

Appellate court Judges Susan Black and Stanley Marcus said Siegelman could be released under the same conditions that he was allowed to remain free for about a year after his June 2006 conviction.

The amount of bond then was not disclosed. Restrictions were placed on his travel, but while awaiting sentencing he had been approved for out-of-state trips.

Chief prosecutor Louis Franklin said he was "very disappointed" by the ruling but still expects the appellate court to rule against Siegelman's appeal.

"I don't view this as a setback. The order is very short and concise and only deals with whether he is entitled to bond pending appeal," Franklin said.

Scrushy attorney Art Leach said the order releasing Siegelman makes him optimistic about Scrushy's chances for release on bond.

"My belief is that there are substantial issues and in my opinion it requires reversal of the conviction," Leach said.

Siegelman has maintained that certain Republicans targeted him after he was elected governor in 1998 in an attempt to derail his political career.

Kilborn said the former governor has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating allegations of political meddling in Justice Department affairs by the Bush administration. The committee hopes to hear from Siegelman in May.

The department and the federal prosecutors who handled Siegelman's prosecution have denied any political influence, emphasizing that he was convicted by a jury. But critics, including a group of former state attorneys general, have called for an independent review and said the case raises questions.