Our coverage of the Paul Minor case in Mississippi has focused on the facts, the law, the judge (U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate), and the defendants (attorney Paul Minor and judges Wes Teel, John Whitfield, and Oliver Diaz).
But what about the prosecutor? That would be Dunn Lampton, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. He was appointed to that position in September 2001 by President George W. Bush.
In examining Lampton's central role in the Minor case, one cannot help but recall some of the clear conflicts and bizarre public statements involving key figures in the Don Siegelman case in Alabama. In terms of conflicts, we think of the judge in the Siegelman case, Mark Fuller. And in terms of bizarre public statements, we think of Louis Franklin, acting U.S. attorney for the Central District of Alabama.
Want to hear a bizarre public statement from Lampton? Try this one after the first Minor trial, which ended with acquittal for Diaz on all charges and acquittal for the other three defendants on some charges and a hung jury on others. (The jury's failure to reach unanimous verdicts on some charges led to a second trial for Minor, Teel, and Whitfield, and they were convicted on all charges.)
Lampton was asked about evidence showing that Diaz had recused himself from cases where Minor was an attorney. In other words, Diaz had not participated in the cases, but he faced corruption-related charges on them anyway. "I knew there would be a problem on Diaz because he didn't vote on anything," Lampton said.
You heard that correctly. The prosecutor knew the case against Diaz was weak--actually the case against Diaz was nonexistent--and he brought it anyway. And we have shown that the cases against Minor, Teel, and Whitfield weren't much stronger, and Lampton chose to try them--twice.
A jury found Minor, Teel, and Whitfield guilty, you might say, so the case must not have been too weak. But we've shown that the jury almost had to produce a guilty verdict because Judge Henry Wingate butchered the case--unlawfully excluding expert witnesses for the defense and and giving jury instructions on bribery and honest-services mail fraud that were blatantly at odds with actual federal law.
But enough about Wingate. Our focus now is on Lampton and his motivations for bringing a case that was spectacularly weak.
It's not hard to see where Lampton had conflicts--and probably raging biases--connected to the Minor case. Consider:
* Lampton is close friends with Keith Starrett, who once ran a losing campaign against Diaz for a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court. But Starrett wound up with a nice consolation prize: an appointment to a federal judgeship in the Southern District of Mississippi. And who should preside over the swearing-in ceremony for Starrett? Why none other than Henry Wingate. And according to the Brookhaven Daily Ledger, Wingate had effusive praise for Starrett, calling him a "true star" in the judicial constellation and saying there is "no finer man in Mississippi." Lampton attended the ceremony and praised Starrett, whom he's known since they played Little League baseball together. How sweet.
* This is not so sweet. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce injected about $1 million into Mississippi judicial races in 2000, some of which went to ads attacking Diaz (who was supported by Minor) and promoting his opponent, Starrett (who was supported by Lampton). And we're supposed to believe that Lampton was an objective, disinterested observer when he brought charges against Minor and Diaz?
* Here's something else that's not so sweet. At the beginning of the investigation into Minor's campaign-finance activities, special FBI agent Matthew Campbell, a forensic accountancy expert, was in charge of the investigation. When he questioned why Mississippi trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs (brother-in-law of Senator Trent Lott, R-MS) was not being investigated, Campbell was removed from the investigation and transferred to Guantanomo Bay. (I'm sure there must be a strong need for forensic-accounting experts there.) The new FBI agent on the Minor case was Kevin Rust, who had made personal contributions to Starrett's failed campaign against Diaz. So both the lead investigator and the prosecutor have major reasons to be biased against both Minor and Diaz. But they are leading the charge.
You might think that this alone would call into question the objectivity of the Minor prosecution. But you would be wrong. We are just getting warmed up in our examination of Dunn Lampton's conflicts in the Minor case. More to come.