Jury instructions regarding bribery (continued)
In the previous post in our Mississippi Churning series, we noted that the defendants in the Paul Minor case apparently were convicted in federal court on jury instructions that were based on state law.
You don't need a degree from Harvard Law School to know that shouldn't happen. My research indicates it wasn't an accident. That raises serious questions about U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate's handling of the Minor trial. And it adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Minor case was a "political hit," similar to the Don Siegelman case in Alabama that is the subject of a Congressional investigation.
So far, the Congressional investigation is focusing on the Siegelman case, the Georgia Thompson case (Wisconsin), and the Cyril Wecht case (Pennsylvania). My knowledge of those three cases is not perfect. But my research on the Minor case makes me think it might be the most flagrant political hit of them all.
Here's why. If attorney Paul Minor and former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were convicted in federal court on jury instructions grounded in state law, how wrongheaded is that?
Consider this scenario: You are at a basketball game, and a player gets the ball right under the basket and hits a layup. The official signals that the basket is good for three points. The opposing coach goes berserk and hollers at the ref: "What the heck is going on?" The ref pulls a rule book out of his pocket and shows the coach: "See, a field goal is worth three points." The coach is beside himself. "That's a football rule book, you ding dong. A field goal is worth three points in football. This is a sport we know as basketball. A field goal in our sport--at least one made from way inside the three-point line--is worth two points." "Hey, I'm in charge here," the ref says. "Sit down and shut up."
The legal equivalent of that scenario appears to have happened in the Paul Minor case. All the evidence I've seen indicates that the defendants had excellent attorneys. I suspect they knew they were being railroaded. But if you argue too vociferously with a basketball official, you get thrown out of the game. You argue too vociferously with a judge, you get thrown in jail.
Remember the old Saturday Night Live routine with Dan Aykroyd: "Jane, you ignorant slut." Try that line on a judge, and he or she is not likely to be amused.
How could federal and state law get mixed up in a high-profile case like the Paul Minor trial? you might ask. Henry Wingate is a federal judge; he couldn't be that dumb.
It's not a matter of being dumb. You can read the trial transcript and quickly see that Judge Wingate has a keen intellect. And it's possible that in many of his cases, he has acted in a lawful and honorable way. But we live in an era where the Bush Justice Department, and people who think like the people who run the Bush Justice Department, are in charge. These people have an agenda, and they will not let quaint concepts like the law and justice and right and wrong get in the way.
In my own case, in Alabama state courts, Republican judges made rulings that were every bit as absurd as the one made by the basketball official above. In fact, in my very first post on this blog, I used a sports analogy to illustrate just how blatantly corrupt these judges were.
They clearly had an agenda. And I see no reason to think that Judge Henry Wingate, if the proper amount of pressure or incentive were applied, couldn't have an agenda too--and act on it.
What is the agenda of these true believers of the GOP? It is to take out and ruin key people who have an agenda that differs from their own. In Alabama, one such person, a person with political clout, was Don Siegelman. In Mississippi, one such person, a person with financial clout, was Paul Minor. Both now are in federal prison. And people like Richard Scrushy (in Alabama) and Wes Teel and John Whitfield (in Mississippi) got caught in the crossfire--collateral damage, if you will.
So, enough theory and philosophy from your humble Schnauzer. Let's get back to the nuts and bolts of the Paul Minor case, particularly the issue of alleged federal crimes and misused state law.
The story behind this little mishap takes some twists and turns. But hang in there with me. I think you will find it interesting. It's a classic example of how a judge can cause a "jury of your peers" to find you guilty of a crime you didn't commit at all.