What are these connections? In a nutshell, the Minor case is an example of a Republican-led justice department going after Democratic-leaning defendants (like the Siegelman case). It is an example of alleged corruption involving state judges and an attorney (like the Legal Schnauzer case). And if you study the case closely, you see signs that it might have been a political hit, a selective prosecution of the kind Congress is scrutinizing.
Let me state a few things up front: I am not an attorney, and I don't claim to have perfect knowledge of the law in the Minor case. I'm a citizen who became deeply interested in the Minor case when I realized it was about a subject--judicial corruption in the Deep South--that I have painful experience with. I became even more interested when I realized the case involved political overtones, much like those present in the Siegelman case in Alabama, and a set of charges that were almost identical to those in the Siegelman case.
While bribery charges have received the most attention in press coverage of the two cases, both really revolved around charges of honest-services mail fraud. And honest-services mail fraud is at the very core of the Legal Schnauzer case--and I will prove that in the weeks and months to come.
In the Siegelman case, 20 of 30-some counts (almost two-thirds; see journalists can do math) were for honest-services mail fraud. Siegelman was convicted on one of the 20 mail fraud counts. In the Minor case, seven of the 14 counts (exactly half; I should be a tax accountant) were for honest-services mail fraud. Minor and the two judges who were prosecuted with him were convicted on all counts.
So why do I, a regular guy with zero days of law school behind me, think I know anything about honest-services mail fraud? Well, I've read several law-review articles on the subject, I've studied applicable case law, and I've read about 30 articles on the Minor case in the mainstream press. I've also read the indictment and the jury instructions, both of which were available on the Web at one time.
I didn't attend the trial, and I don't have access to a trial transcript. So you see, my knowledge isn't perfect.But I think I have some insight worth sharing on the Minor case and how it connects to the Siegelman case, the Legal Schnauzer case, and the broader justice department scandal. I welcome input from readers who have information or opinions about the case.
A key point: I'm conflicted about the Minor case. If there is anyone who wants to see corrupt lawyers and judges punished, it's me. But when you've been around the law a little bit, you learn that it's important to set emotions aside and see what the law and the facts actually tell you. And I think you also have to look at the Minor case within the prism of what we are learning about the Bush justice department.
Another key point: I make no secret of the fact that I am a Democrat. But I want to make a serious effort to see things in an objective way on the Minor case. (Whether I succeed at that will remain open to debate.) When you read about the Minor case, and when you read about the Siegelman case for that matter, you get the sense that these folks were doing some things they shouldn't have been doing. In Siegelman's case, the warehouse deal, the transportation department stuff . . . he should have known better than to let some of that stuff go on. In the Minor case, Minor should have known better than to make loans to judges before whom he had cases--and the judges should have known better than to take such loans.
But again, we have to look at the actual law. Even the Montgomery jury found that Siegelman's actions related to the warehouse etc. did not amount to crimes; the conviction came down to a deal with Richard Scrushy to pay off the lottery campaign debt. And in the Minor case, Mississippi law at the time did not preclude loans from a lawyer to a judge. (Personally, I think such loans, contributions, and similar favors should be banned in all states; but it's the law, not my opinion, that matters.)
While I want any truly corrupt judges and attorneys to be punished, the Mississippi case leaves me with a queasy feeling. My research indicates there certainly are questions about the guilt of the defendants in the Mississippi case, and yet three men (all Democrats) are going to prison. Meanwhile, in Alabama, I have a case of honest-services mail fraud that should be a dead-solid cinch for a conviction--under the actual law. But the Bush justice department won't even look at it. And several corrupt men (all Republicans) go merrily on their way.
With all that said, let's look at Mississppi and the case of attorney Paul Minor and judges Oliver Diaz, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield.