In an unexpected move, the judge overseeing the appeal of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s 2006 conviction has ordered Siegelman to appear in the U.S. District Court on Monday regarding the Democrat’s request for release while his appeal is ongoing. Oral arguments for his appeal were initially expected in July, but have been postponed to January.

The former governor is currently serving a 78-month sentence at the federal prison in Louisiana and is scheduled to be released in August 2017. He was convicted in 2006 on bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges for selling a spot on a hospital regulatory board to former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in exchange for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman’s 1999 campaign to establish a state lottery.

Scrushy also was convicted and sentenced to prison, but was released in 2012.

Siegelman, 68, contends to this day that the money was not a bribe and that he was railroaded by political forces, including a prosecutor who was married to a Republican consultant working for his GOP opponent at the time. That U.S. Attorney, Laura Canary, recused herself. Siegelman maintains that she then continued to work on the case on “a daily basis,” but he was gagged from sharing evidence to that effect with the jury during his trial.

The court ruled in October that Siegelman would have to remain behind bars throughout his appeal. A new judge has been assigned to the case, however. In November, Hon. Clay Land immediately set about ordering a hearing on Siegelman’s request for release, according to the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper. The previous judge on the case, Hon. Mark Fuller, was taken off the bench in August after he was indicted on domestic battery charges involving a bloody fight with his wife at an Atlanta hotel. The charges were dropped in September in exchange for a deal in which Fuller agreed to enter a domestic violence treatment program.

Meanwhile, the ex-governor is now represented by long-time Democratic attorney Greg Craig, who also counseled President Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment hearings. Craig helped Siegelman secure the appeal hearing, which he hope will lead to a new trial so, “I can clear my name and get back to my family," he said in an exclusive statement to Fox Business Network in May.

“I am blessed to have Greg Craig … representing me,” Siegelman said. “He is my best advocate.”

Craig also represented John Hinckley Jr., who in 1981 tried to assassinate President Reagan but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

His original involvement in the Siegelman case reportedly was to seek executive clemency through a pardon or get the sentence commuted. 

Craig did not respond to an interview request from FoxNews.com.

Siegelman also told Fox that the court’s decision to hear his appeal is “a good sign there are questions that need further explanation.”

This isn’t is first appeal. After he was locked up in 2007 he was released after serving nine months of his original 88-month sentence, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear his case and he went back to prison, but with a shorter sentence after an appeal court threw out two of his seven original charges.

Fox Business Network’s Eric Spinato contributed to this report.