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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mississippi Churning, Part I

Let's start with a "just-the-facts-ma'am" version of what happened in the Paul Minor case in Mississippi.

Paul Minor is a very successful south-Mississippi lawyer who became a multimillionaire based on his skills as a trial attorney. He won a number of high-profile cases involving tobacco, asbestos, wrongful death, and personal injury. His father, Bill Minor, is a longtime Mississippi journalist known for his courageous reporting during the civil-rights era. Paul Minor is known to support, both philosophically and financially, the causes of the Democratic Party.

A federal investigation of Minor and three judges began in 2002 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The three judges who wound up being indicted, along with Minor, are former State Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, former Chancery Judge Wes Teel, and former Circuit Judge John Whitfield. Minor was accused of securing loans for the judges in exchange for favorable rulings on cases before them.

In the first trial in 2005, a jury acquitted Diaz on all charges. He later was acquitted on tax-evasion charges in a separate indictment. The same jury in the first trial acquitted Minor, Teel, and Whitfield on some corruption charges and failed to agree unanimously on others.

Federal prosecutors decided to retry Minor, Teel, and Whitfield, and they were found guilty on all charges in March 2007. Charges included bribery, racketeering, conspiracy, and honest-services mail fraud.

Leading the prosecution were Dunn Lampton, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, and Noel Hillman, then chief of the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Lampton is a Republican appointee and Hillman has since been nominated to a federal judgeship by the Bush White House.

The judge, Henry Wingate, is a Republican appointee.

Sentencing in the case was announced on September 7. Minor was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison; Whitfield and Teel were sentenced to 110 months and 70 months, respectively.

(Source: Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Sept. 8, 2007)

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