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Friday, September 28, 2007

Mississippi Churning, Part XI

Was the Paul Minor case in Mississippi a political hit by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ), similar to the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman? Does the Bush DOJ target certain individuals because they support Democratic causes and candidates?

Evidence in the Minor case strongly suggests that the answer to both questions is yes.

Consider the case of Oliver Diaz, a justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Diaz is a Republican, although he has enjoyed bipartisan support and was appointed to the bench by former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat. Diaz was a longtime friend of attorney Paul Minor, a major supporter of Democratic candidates, and received loans guaranteed by Minor.

Diaz wound up being indicted by the federal government on corruption charges and eventually was acquitted, both in the initial corruption trial and a subsequent tax-evasion trial. Fellow defendants Minor and former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were convicted in a second corruption trial.

Interestingly, Diaz was the only member of the Mississippi Supreme Court to be indicted, but he was not the only justice to have a loan guaranteed by Minor.

Former Chief Justice Ed Pittman had Minor guarantee a $40,000 campaign loan from Peoples Bank in Biloxi when Pittman ran for re-election in 1996. Records show that Pittman's campaign repaid half of the $40,000 plus interest, but there is no indication any other payments were made, leaving Minor to repay the rest.

After receiving the loan guarantee from Minor in 1996, Pittman heard three cases involving Minor's clients. He ruled in favor of those clients in each case, although in one of those cases he significantly reduced damages to Minor's client.

In the 2001 Accu-Fab decision covered in our previous post, Pittman wrote a 5-3 decision affirming a $2-million jury verdict given Minor's client in a wrongful-death case. And in the 2003 Archie Marks decision, Pittman joined four justices in affirming liability but reducing damages from $3.6 million to $1.6 million.

Diaz, who joined the high court in 2000, did not take part in either of those decisions, evidently feeling that loan guarantees from Minor might call his impartiality into question.

The bottom line? Pittman received a loan guarantee from Minor, ruled in Minor's favor on three cases, and was not indicted. Diaz received a loan guarantee from Minor, recused himself from Minor's cases, and was indicted.

Go figure.

Why was Diaz indicted while Pittman was not? Was there something in Pittman's background that caused the Bush Justice Department to lay off of him?

Robert McDuff, Diaz's attorney, had this to say on the matter: "There's probably not an elected judge in America who didn't receive campaign contributions or loans from attorneys. That does not violate federal law. What violates federal law is if the judge rules differently because of the contribution than he otherwise would have.

"I am not surprised that Chief Justice Pittman wasn't charged since I don't think he violated federal law. But Justice Diaz didn't violate federal law either, and I'm surprised he was indicted, particularly since he took the extra step of withdrawing whenever Paul Minor had a case before the Supreme Court."

Is it possible this prosecution was driven by politics more than federal law?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Getting closer but still not on target