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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Madness in Mississippi

We long have called Alabama "Ground Zero" for the Bush Justice Department scandal and other assorted Republican shenanigans that appear to be driven by acolytes of Karl Rove.

Mississippi long has been running a close second in the "Ground Zero" sweepstakes, and now the Magnolia State looks like it might be ready to pull into a first-place tie.

Not content with the blatant corruption of the Paul Minor case, Mississippi Republicans are stretching ethical boundaries on a couple of new fronts.

One involves the U.S. Senate race between Roger Wicker, who took over Trent Lott's old seat, and Democratic challenger Ronnie Musgrove. Scott Horton reports at Harper's.org that Jim Greenlee, a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney for northern Mississippi, appears to be orchestrating a federal investigation that is designed to disrupt Musgrove's campaign.

Greenlee just so happens to have been a donor to Wicker's Congressional campaign. Hmmm.

A four-year-old investigation into the failed Mississippi Beef Processors plant came to a head recently with guilty pleas from three Georgia businessmen. The three were mostly let off the hook on the most serious charges, but they pled guilty to charges that they tried to buy influence with Musgrove in his failed 2003 re-election campaign for governor.

A Mississippi journalist who had been skeptical of charges that the Bush administration has engaged in political prosecutions now says the Mississippi Beef case doesn't pass the smell test.

In an even more bizarre event, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz was barred by his colleagues from having a dissenting opinion published in a particular case. Diaz was one of four defendants in the Paul Minor case, which resulted in federal prison sentences for Minor, an attorney and prominent Democratic supporter, and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. Diaz, a moderate Republican, was prosecuted twice by the Bush Justice Department and acquitted both times.

The Emptywheel blog reports that the case dealt with the statute of limitations on wrongful-death cases and established that the statute would begin to run at the time of injury, before the victim had even died. This type of ruling evidently has been a longtime goal of the Republican-backed "tort reform" movement. Let me repeat what this ruling says: The statute of limitations on a wrongful death case will begin to run before the victim dies.

This is rubber-meets-the-road conservatism, what the modern "conservatism" movement is all about. But the vast majority of citizens don't have a clue about what "strict constructionist" judges are doing in state courts.

The folo blog is THE place to go for legal news in Mississippi, and it has an excellent overview of the Diaz story. It also includes coverage from two of Mississippi's largest newspapers.

Ultimately, the Diaz dissent was released, but not before the folks at folo had a chance to call his colleagues "knuckleheads." Explanations from Diaz' fellow Supremes ring pretty hollow, and one can only wonder what they really were thinking.

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