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Friday, October 26, 2007

More From Mississippi

It's been a busy week for news related to the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. If you are interested in seeing justice done in our courts, you are likely to find some of the news encouraging, some disturbing, and some, well, curious.

Kudos for Cohen
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) deserves applause for presenting the Minor case to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee at Tuesday's hearing in Washington. The Minor case now seems to join the Don Siegelman (Alabama), Cyril Wecht (Pennsylvania), and Georgia Thompson (Wisconsin) cases on the selective-prosecution front burner.

Ana Radelat covered the Minor story for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Washington Bureau. An interesting quote near the end of her story from U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, who directed the prosecution. "When someone is tried and convicted by a jury, that's a pretty good indication that he's guilty," Lampton said. Actually, that's not an indication of anything, particularly when the judge in this case (Republican appointee Henry Wingate) butchered the law repeatedly--giving improper jury instructions related to the two key charges (bribery and honest-services mail fraud), improperly rejecting expert testimony, ignoring Fifth-Circuit law that requires a quid pro quo be present for a bribery conviction . . . and on and on.

Anita Lee covered the story for the Biloxi Sun Herald. James Park, legislative counsel for Rep. Cohen, said the case came to the representative's attention through recent articles in The New York Times and Harper's.org.

An Objective Judge?
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate would allow attorney Paul Minor no reprieve from immediately paying $4.25 million in fines and restitution stemming from his conviction on bribery-related charges.

According to court documents, the fine is more than 15 times what the district court's Guideline calculation would require and Probation recommended. It is more than 11 times what the Guidelines provide for in cases involving the worst of offenders.

Julie Epps, one of Minor's attorneys, asked that Minor be allowed to post the money in an interest-bearing court account until his appeal is decided. Minor has been moved several times within the prison system, making it difficult for him to make arrangements for the money. But Wingate insisted the fine be paid now.

Why would a judge impose a fine that is 15 times beyond the level called for by federal guidelines? Why would a judge insist that such a huge fine be paid prior to a decision on appeal? Why would a judge repeatedly butcher the law, leading to the conviction of a lawyer and two judges who clearly violated no federal laws?

This next item might give some insight to those questions.

Fifth Circuit Seat is Filled
The U.S. Senate this week confirmed the appointment of Mississippi state judge Leslie Southwick to a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in New Orleans and covers Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

The vacant seat had been a source of controversy for several years. Congressional Democrats blocked President Bush's first two nominees, Charles Pickering and Mike Wallace. Civil Rights groups had pushed for the appointment of a black judge, and U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate (who oversaw the Minor case) was considered a prime candidate.

For unclear reasons, Wingate did not meet with favor from the Bush administration. And some observers have wondered if his bizarre and improper handling of the Minor trial was an effort to draw support from the White House.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy was among those leading the charge for Wingate. Ironically, the push by Democrats and Civil Rights groups for a black judge might have caused Wingate to put his personal ambitions ahead of justice, leading to the convictions of an attorney and two judges (one of them black) who were seen as champions of Democratic causes

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