Let's return for a moment to the subject of U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, who ramrodded the Paul Minor case in Mississippi.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, recently completed a two-part series on the Minor case, focusing on former Mississippi state judge Wes Teel (one of three defendants in the Minor case). Horton's searing account reveals to a national audience what we have shown to our Legal Schnauzer audience--that Judge Wingate butchered the Minor case in a way that almost had to be intentional.
Horton called some of Wingate's rulings "breathtaking" and "unconscionable." Given that three innocent men are in federal prison because of Wingate's actions, I would say Horton was being charitable. Terms such as "malicious," "despicable," "corrupt," and "wicked" might be a better fit. Give me time, and I will think of a few more adjectives.
But here is the point: Henry Wingate, because of his unlawful rulings in the Paul Minor case, has become a truly historic figure.
I've been a professional journalist for almost 30 years, and before that, I was an inveterate newspaper reader. (OK, I admit my "pre-professional" newspaper-reading days consisted mostly of reading the sports section, the comics, and Ann Landers. But hey, that's a start, right?)
I certainly don't claim to have perfect knowledge when it comes to news coverage of justice matters. But I don't ever recall reading a story where a judge has so clearly been shown to be corrupt in his actions on the bench.
Oh sure, there have been cases where judges have been shown to be "on the take" in behind-the-scenes ways. The Operation Greylord case in Chicago comes to mind.
But I don't recall another case where a judge was so clearly, and almost certainly so intentionally, committing fraud right there in the broad daylight of open court. And in a high-profile case, no less.
How did Wingate do it? By making unlawful rulings that essentially prevented defendants Minor, Teel, and John Whitfield from putting on a defense. And by giving jury instructions on bribery and honest-services mail fraud that did not even come close to reflecting what the law actually is. The end result? Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield are political prisoners--in the good ole US of A.
Eventually, I think U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who oversaw/ramrodded the Don Siegelman case in Alabama, will be shown to be Wingate's equal when it comes to corruption. But so far, because no trial transcript exists, it's impossible to know just what hanky-panky Fuller might have pulled.
Most of the criticism of Fuller has come because of his many apparent conflicts in the Siegelman case--and because the case had what appears to be an unlawful result. But I'm not aware of anyone showing that Fuller repeatedly made unlawful rulings throughout the trial. (Although I expect that will be shown.)
Wingate, though, is another matter. It's clear as day that he made mucho unlawful rulings. And we have a transcript to prove it. So just how profound is this? What does it mean that a federal judge would do this, under the supposedly bright lights of open court? I have a few thoughts:
* It shows that Henry Wingate thinks the press, and the public in general, are a bunch of saps. In regards to the mainstream press, he might be right about that. Not that mainstream reporters are saps, actually. But the folks who run mainstream news outfits can be controlled these days. I think folks like Wingate and Fuller understand this all too well. A few pesky bloggers have not been so easily controlled. Just how much trouble those bloggers will wind up causing Wingate and Fuller remains to be seen.
* Judges like Henry Wingate have utter disregard for our constitution, our form of government, our very way of life. What exactly is our form of government? Well, that has been a matter for debate for many years. Some call it a representative democracy. Others prefer the term constitutional republic. Whatever you call it, our system does not involve "king judges," judges who can do whatever they want. Our judges take an oath to uphold the law--law that is written by our elected representatives and interpreted by appellate courts. Trial-court judges such as Henry Wingate have a duty to follow the law that is passed down by those above them. They do not have endless discretion. In fact, in this country, we have a place for those who see themselves as "king judges." It's called federal prison.
* Henry Wingate holds a place in history, and he also holds a key place here at Legal Schnauzer. For he is the first judge that we have clearly shown to be corrupt. And he is the first instance where we have shown exactly how a corrupt judge operates. But he will not be the last. Numerous Alabama state judges will be unmasked in the same way.
* Finally, here is a truly disturbing thought about Henry Wingate. He duped the members of the jury in the Paul Minor case. The dictionary defines "dupe" as someone who is easily deceived or cheated. And that's exactly how Henry Wingate saw the Minor jurors. Wonder what those jurors would think if they knew that. In fact, you might try asking yourself this question: What if you had served on a jury and voted to convict, only to find out you did so based on unlawful instructions from the judge? Would you be horrified to learn that you had unlawfully put an innocent person in prison? I know I would be horrified to learn that. Wonder how the jurors in the Minor case would feel about it.