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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Judge In Paul Minor Case Continues His Evil Ways

Paul Minor

The biggest problems with our justice system involve people, not process. Every now and then, I will discover an element of the law--something from the codes, statutes, procedures, cases--that I take issue with. But for the most part, the actual law makes sense, at least to me. Our system has become a sewer because of the people--lawyers; judges; even clerks, in some cases--who are supposed to apply the law, but instead act in a corrupt fashion.

That's not to say, however, that the system itself doesn't have some perverse qualities. And two of them are on display this week in the Paul Minor case in Mississippi.

Minor, a plaintiff's lawyer known for successfully taking on corporate interests, was convicted on federal corruption charges in April 2007. Wes Teel and John Whitfield, two former state judges, also were convicted in the case, and the men have spent the past three-plus years in federal prison. The Minor story has been a companion case to the Don Siegelman saga in Alabama, two clear examples of political prosecutions during the George W. Bush era.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the bribery convictions in the Minor case and sent it back to the trial court for reconsideration, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's narrowed definition of honest-services fraud in a case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.

Attorneys for the Minor defendants filed a motion to vacate the convictions, and given the actions of higher courts, you would think that might have been a chance for U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate to finally get something right. But you would be wrong.

Wingate ruled yesterday that he is returning Minor, Teel, and Whitfield to prison. The three men had asked to be sentenced to time served, a profoundly reasonable request considering that public documents show they never committed a crime in the first place. But Wingate denied the request. He reduced Minor's 11-year sentence to eight years and reduced Teel's sentence by 22 months and Whitfield's by 19 months.

How absurd is this? Consider this from one of our recent posts about the Minor case:

We've shown through probably 100-plus posts here at Legal Schnauzer that Minor, Teel, and Whitfield indeed were convicted for actions that are not criminal--and it was not even a close call, just as in the Siegelman case in Alabama. What was the gist of the charges? Minor had provided loan guarantees to the state judges, which was legal under Mississippi law. The judges later made rulings that were favorable to Minor's clients, and the government contended that was proof of corrupt acts--that Minor received the rulings in exchange for the loan guarantees.

There were several problems, however, with the government's case. One, there was no testimony or evidence that a quid pro quo agreement existed between Minor and the judges. Second, a review of the cases in question show clearly that the judges ruled correctly, based on the facts and law before them. In other words, Minor's clients prevailed because they deserved to prevail--not because of any hanky panky behind the scenes. Expert witnesses were prepared to testify to this effect at trial, but Wingate did not allow it. In essence, the Minor defendants were not allowed to put on a defense, and Wingate's jury instructions simply were concocted from the bench, having little to do with actual relevant law.

Folks who are interested in background on the Minor case might want to check out these two posts:

An Inside Look at the Dirty Work of Federal Prosecutors in the Age of Bush


Josef Stalin's Spirit Lives On Through the Paul Minor Case in Mississippi


As for newer material, get a load of this report last week in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate heard arguments on the defense motions but said if there were an error in the judicial bribery trial, it was harmless.

"The jury found facts establishing guilt," Wingate said.

Errors that caused three innocent men to be sent to federal prison are "harmless"? And how did the jury manage to find facts that established guilt? Why, Wingate gave them jury instructions that were not remotely correct under the law.

How screwy were Wingate's jury instructions? We've addressed that in a previous post. Here was a key portion of Wingate's instruction:

"You may find specific criminal intent even though you may find that the rulings were legal and correct, that the official conduct would have been done anyway, that the official conduct sought to be influenced was lawful and required by law, and that the official conduct was desirable or beneficial to the public welfare."

You can search law books until your fingers bleed, and you will not find that description of bribery or honest-services fraud. That's because it doesn't exist. Henry Wingate made it up, and the Minor defendants were convicted for a "crime" that is a figment of a judge's imagination.

What about those perverse qualities that are built into our "justice" system? Here are two big ones:

(1) A judge gets a second chance to screw up--When an appellate court finds an error at the trial-court level, it returns the case to the same judge who likely is responsible for the screw up in the first place. Does that make a lick of sense? Of course not. In the Minor case, the Fifth Circuit, in essence, found, "Judge Wingate, you screwed this up." So what did the Fifth Circuit do? It sent the case right back to Judge Wingate, who now is pissed off because he's been reversed. Works out real well for the defendants, especially those who were convicted based on jury instructions that describe a "crime" that does not exist under the law.

(2) The value of remorse--One way to get a sentence reduced is to go in front of a judge and act contrite about having broken the law. But what if you didn't break the law? What if the actual law was not even presented to the jury that convicted you? What if you know all of that? You are supposed to be remorseful about something you didn't do?

That, too, is at play in the Minor case. Consider this from a story about Wingate's most recent ruling:

The government had initially requested maximum sentences for the three men. Wingate said he would not do that, resentencing all three to terms that were less that those suggested in federal sentencing guidelines.

Wingate said he impressed by the contrition shown by the three. “You have with you conduct earned a reduction” in the sentence, Wingate said.

The Minor defendants, understandably, are desperate to get out of prison. And they know how the game is played, so they are apologizing for "crimes" they did not commit.

That's all part of the "theater" involved in our justice system. And it can't get much more perverse than what we are seeing in the Paul Minor case.

13 comments:

choggs said...

We must preserve the faith in the people in their justice system- even at the expense of a few.

Nothing to see hear folks

This stuff makes me wana drink (:

Anonymous said...

Trying to justify the actions of a greedy, drunken megalomaniac such as Minor because he donated to your preferred political party demonstrates the real flaws in a true legal system. What Mississippi has is a perverted charade where honest people are denied any type of justice unless they are of the correct political nature. To remedy this, the citizens of the state must pass a law whereby any contribution to a judge’s campaign is grounds for immediate disbarment, no judges are appointed and all legal proceeding are video recorded and available online. They should also require that these three convicts serve corresponding time in state prison after their release from the federal incarceration. Then maybe the state of Mississippi can wrest from the bottom of the legal system sewer it has dwelled for more than a century.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon:

You undercut your own argument. You state that MS needs to change its laws to make contributions such as those Minor made illegal. And that may be true. In fact, I would support such a law in all states. But at the time of Minor's prosecution, such contributions were legal. That's why his prosecution is unlawful. It has nothing to do with what party he contributed to. Judicial races in MS are nonpartisan anyway.

Anonymous said...

And you sir are obviously not familiar with the facts. Minor did not "contribute", he "loaned" the money and "forgave" the loan. MS is a common law state, but common sense defines it as bribe. Qui pro quo may not have happened, "but in your pocket" sure enough did.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon:

I'm probably more familiar with the facts, and the law, than any journalist in the country. Whether you call them loans or contributions, the assistance was legal under MS law--even the prosecution acknowledged that. Also, Minor received nothing under the law. The decisions went in his clients' favor because that's what the law and the facts dictated. Bribery is about a "specific agreement" to give something in exchange for something. The evidence at trial showed there was no such agreement, Minor received nothing unlawful, and the contributions themselves were allowed by MS law. You might not like Mr. Minor, and that's fine. I don't like a lot of lawyers myself. But he, Teel, and Winfield are innocent of these charges, and it's not a close call. If you don't think I've studied this a little, go to the search function at the top of my blog and key in the words "Paul Minor." You're arguing with the wrong guy on this subject.

Anonymous said...

My experience is that the primary reason one refers to himself as a “professional” is that his argument falls short of its mark and indeed if one wants to pervert the English language - hire a journalist or a lawyer. Reasonable people know what Minor did. He bribed three judges and two were convicted. The true tragedy here is that Minor and his leash dogs are getting out on a turn of the phrase technicality, not the by the true meaning of the law.
The term quid pro quo does not appear in any Mississippi statute. The term “appearance of impropriety” does under the Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2. “Loaning” judges hundreds of thousands of dollars and forgiving those loans constitutes more than just appearing improper. “Specific performance” could mean lean your future decisions my way. For a prize fighter to throw a fight does not always entail taking a dive in fifth, but could simply mean not giving his best performance throughout the bout. Indeed in the famous “black sox” scandal of 1919 all involved, with the exception of Joe Jackson, admitted bribery, but no one instance was shown to have been committed directly for the overall cause, no purposely missed pitch for $100 or an error for a 50. Common people understand the term “in your pocket” not Latin for tit for tat.
I also direct your attention to Mississippi statute 97-11-11


Any reasonable, objective person who reads this statute knows its intent and understands what the people mean by “or may be thereafter subject to vote, opinion, action or judgment of such officer, agent or trustee…”. The intent - the integrity of the office cannot be compromised now or in the future.

It is objectivity that makes a good journalist and it is obvious that you are more of a democrat than a journalist. You should consider revising your professional moniker as political commentator.

legalschnauzer said...

Under Mississippi law at the time, the Minor contributions were legal--even the prosecution acknowledged that, so you are barking up the wrong tree. Also, this was a federal prosecution, so MS state law has little to do with it, other than the fact that state law at the time allowed such contributions. People in this country are not prosecuted or convicted because of what "reasonable people know." They are prosecuted or convicted only if their behavior is shown to meet the elements of a specific crime. The behavior of the Minor defendants did not come close to matching the definition of any federal crime. I've read the statutes, the case law, and the trial transcripts. I doubt that you've done any of that.

If you are so sure of your position, why do you keep sending anonymous comments? Why do you keep hiding your identity. Let us know who you are. I'm 100 percent transparent here. I don't normally engage in lengthy conversations with folks who insist on remaining anonymous. If you want to continue this, tell us who you are. Otherwise, I don't have much respect for your opinions. And the Minor case is not a matter of opinion anyway; it's a matter of fact. Judge Wingate gave unlawful jury instructions, and three men got convicted for a crime that doesn't exist under actual law.

EditorBJJ said...

If you don't want people to participate anonymously perhaps you should disable your anonymous option. Also, if you were truly 100% transparent, your approval would not be necessary prior to posting.

- EditorBJJ (formerly Anonymous)

legalschnauzer said...

Have you ever run a blog? Do you know the kind of spam and garbage you get on your comments if you don't moderate them?

I'm not opposed to anonymous commenters, as long as their statements are within the bounds of good taste. But I generally make it a practice not to engage in ongoing discussions with people who want to hide behind phony names. And when anonymous types reach the level of insulting me, or others, I don't have much use for them. You have reached that level.

I've been plenty tolerant and transparent with you, and you still refuse to reveal who you are. My impression is that you have a personal beef with Mr. Minor, and that's fine, but I see no sign that you are interested in learning about the facts and law in that case.

I'm not interested in taking time or space on my blog for your personal agenda.

EditorBJJ said...

But it’s OK for you to hide behind your phony name. FYI, I have run an open forum and online newspaper for over 11 years, but lessons cost extra.

Back to the argument:

Actually 18 U.S.C. § 201 is even stronger than MS statutes:
…directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official … and still no mention of quid pro quo. That term was used by the courts to water down the law of the people. The fifth circuit is the ones in error, not Judge Wingate.

One last thing and I will leave your tyrannically perverted example of a free press to those who believe in such illusions. I take it very personally when an officer of the court betrays the trust of the people and bribes judges. I'm just built that way.

legalschnauzer said...

What phony name are you talking about? You must not read my blog very much. My name is Roger Shuler, and it's all over the place in this blog. I've blogged under my real name from day one, and it's the reason I was cheated out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Minor was not charged under 201, he was charged under 666. You really should learn a few basics about the relevant law. It's sad that you came to a blog that actually can teach you something about this case, but you are so set in your prejudices that you refuse to learn. You can learn about bribery here:

Bhttp://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2007/10/bribery-primer.html#links

I share your belief that those who bribe public officials should be punished. I'm built that way, too. But bribery is not what you or I might think it is, or what a "reasonable" person thinks it is. It has a very specific definition under the law. And the actions of the Minor defendants did not come close to meeting it.

Funny, I have a concern with people being sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. No matter how much I might dislike a person, I still don't want to see him or her falsely charged or convicted of a crime. I'm just built that way.

By the way, try Googling "Roger Shuler" and see how much legal-related material comes up. It will give you a clue about how transparent I really am.

Also try educating yourself before spouting off on subjects that you know nothing about. Also, try using your real name--it will earn you some respect.

EditorBJJ said...

When I took the time to comment on your site it was my intention to have a vigorous and lucid debate concerning the legal system as it exists in the South. Your site offered anonymous posting and I chose to take that option. Now I see the typical chest ponding and the great desire to “shoot the messenger” if only you could find out who the messenger is.

Mr. Minor, even as a convicted felon, is a very rich man. Convicted felons are notorious for seeking vengeance and Mr. Minor’s attorney friends are quite capable of subjecting a critic to needless and expensive litigation in retribution for expressing an opinion.

Fairness dictates that you don’t change your rules in the middle of the game (or bribe an official to do it for you).

They again this isn’t about fairness, it’s about the way the law is practiced in the south.

legalschnauzer said...

We've had a lucid and vigorous debate. But the Minor case is not a matter for debate. If you study the transcripts, the actual law, etc., its undebatable that the defendants were convicted of crimes that exist only in Judge Wingate's mind.

I sense that you do not like Mr. Minor. Perhaps you've had a bad encounter with him. If so, I feel for you. I've had lots of bad encounters with lawyers. (For the record, I've never met Paul Minor and never even spoken with him; also I'm not a member of the Democratic Party or any other party.)

You and I agree, too, that contributions such as those that Mr. Minor made to the judges should not be allowed. But under MS law at the time, they were. My understanding is that MS law since has been altered.

Many states, including Alabama (where I live), allow these sorts of contributions. I think it's bad public policy. But Mr. Minor was playing by the rules, whether you or I agree with the rules or not.

If you really want to understand the Minor case, you have to understand the underlying cases where he supposedly received a reward for "bribing" judges. They are the Archie Marks case and the Peoples Bank case.
You can read about them below. Minor's clients did win the cases, but a review of the record shows they should have won the cases based on the facts and the law. The cases were decided correctly, so Minor received nothing in return on these cases. And these were the cases the government chose in order to prove a bribery case. In essence, there was no proof of a "quid" and there definitely was no "quo." So you can't have a bribery conviction, as the crime is defined by the federal code and case law. Simply can't happen.

Finally, I share your concern about the way justice is practice in the South, and elsewhere. That's why I started this blog. But the Paul Minor convictions are part of the problem, not part of the solution. No matter how you feel about Paul Minor personally, his case was butchered by the prosecutors and the judge.


http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2007/09/mississippi-churning-part-viii.html#links


http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2007/09/mississippi-churning-part-vii.html#links