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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Federal Judge Henry Wingate Doesn't Make An Effort To Apply The Law Correctly In Paul Minor Civil Case

U.S. Judge Henry Wingate
Paul Minor, one of the most successful plaintiffs' lawyers in Mississippi history, has been released from prison on his Bush-era conviction for "crimes" that do not exist under actual law. Minor's legal problems, however, are far from over. With U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate still in charge of his fate, things could go from bad to worse for Paul Minor.

How could Wingate, a black Republican who apparently qualifies as Mississippi's version of Clarence Thomas, still be in charge of Minor's fate? After all, Wingate presided over multiple criminal trials in the Minor matter; how could he possibly serve as an impartial arbiter in a related civil matter?

The answer is, "He can't, but he's doing it anyway--in what's left of our so-called U.S. justice system."

As part of the fallout from the criminal case, insurance giant USF&G sued Minor and his one-time client, Peoples Bank of Biloxi, Mississippi. The basic claim is that Minor and the bank benefited from actions that were found to be unlawful. The civil case was filed in 2003, but it was put on hold pending the criminal matter. When Minor was released from prison earlier this year, the civil case kicked into high gear.

A reasonable citizen might ask, "How could the same judge hear both cases? He's heard the evidence, he's issued orders on various matters . . . how could he possibly be an impartial arbiter in the civil matter when he's already ruled on pretty much the same issues in the criminal matter?"

Under the law, such a citizen is asking all of the right questions. Per 28 U.S. Code 455, a federal judge must disqualify himself in "any proceeding where his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." That means Wingate was required by law to step down from the Minor civil case, without being asked. But so far, the judge has resisted all of Minor's efforts to get him off the case.

Even if Wingate had handled the criminal case in an impeccable manner, he should not be hearing the related civil matter. But Wingate's recalcitrance becomes especially troubling when you consider that he butchered the criminal case in almost every way imaginable.

Here are just two of many posts we've written about the botch job Wingate committed on U.S. v. Minor, et al:

Henry Wingate: Portrait of a Corrupt Judge (January 28, 2008)

Judge In Paul Minor Case Continues His Evil Ways (June 14, 2011)

We are not alone in our critique of Wingate's actions. Columbia University law professor Scott Horton called some of Wingate's rulings in the criminal case "breathtaking" and "unconscionable" in a 2007 article for Harper's.

USF&G's lawyers, from the Jackson, Mississippi, firm of McCraney, Montagnet, Quin & Noble, almost surely know they have no legal basis for the civil claim. They apparently have the judge in their hip pocket, however, so the case is proceeding apace.

Consider just some of the facts and law connected to the criminal case:

* USF&G claims that it was the victim of a fraudulent scheme involving Minor and former Mississippi Chancery Judge Wes Teel in the underlying Peoples Bank case. But USF&G voluntarily settled the case, and Teel did not even issue a final ruling in the matter. He did favor Peoples Bank at summary judgment on the issue of liability, but that finding was in line with prevailing Mississippi law at the time. Where is fraud in a case that USF&G voluntarily settled?

* At the heart of USF&G's civil complaint is the contention that it was the victim of a bribery scheme involving Minor and Teel. But the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned all of the bribery-related convictions in 2009. The remaining convictions essentially rested on an honest-services fraud charge.

* In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Skilling v. U.S., 28 S. Ct. 2896 (2010), honest-services convictions can stand only in cases where bribes or kickbacks are involved. As already shown, the bribery convictions in the Minor criminal case were overturned. And kickbacks were not even alleged.

That leaves us asking this question about the USF&G civil case: Where's the beef? The case rests on . . . well, almost nothing. But the firm is seeking $12.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages anyway.

Minor probably has grounds to seek Rule 11 sanctions against USF&G lawyers for bringing a nonmeritorious case for the purposes of harassment. He also probably has grounds for an abuse of process claim against USF&G and its attorneys.

With Henry Wingate on the case, what are the chances that a Ronald Reagan appointee would hold an insurance company and its lawyers accountable for bringing a baseless civil complaint?

The chances are slim, but the public should pay close attention to Henry Wingate's actions in USF&G v. Minor. It's a classic study of a federal judge who is so arrogant that he doesn't even try to hide his favoritism toward a corporate litigant. And the corporation seems happy to benefit from the law being bent like a pretzel.


Anonymous said...

Someone seems determined to make sure Paul Minor can never live in peace.

Anonymous said...

The same judge who heard a criminal matter can hear a civil matter growing from the same case? I don't know much about Paul Minor's guilt or innocence, whether he was in the right or wrong, but this current case should not be heard by the same judge as the previous case.

legalschnauzer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 11:48--

It almost makes you wonder if Henry Wingate is the only judge in that federal district in MS. There isn't anyone else available?

Anonymous said...

What if Don Siegelman were released from prison, and HealthSouth decided to zap him with a civil lawsuit?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 1:41--

The situation you describe with Siegelman is analagous, in my view. The only difference is that USF&G filed theirs back in 2008, to beat the statute of limitations. If HealthSouth filed a lawsuit now, it would be blocked by the limitations period. In both instances, though, you would have corporate entities trying to benefit financially from bogus criminal prosecutions.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Paul Minor make a lot of his money from suing Big Tobacco and Big Asbestos, etc.? He must have really ticked off corporate America, and I guess USF&G is now carrying the flag.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 2:00--

Yes, Paul Minor was very successful in suing asbestos and tobacco industries--maybe Big Oil, too, I'm not sure. And yes, it seems USF&G is carrying the corporate flag, whether they have a case or not.

Spasmoda said...

A story at one of your links says Minor already has paid $1.5 million in restitution to USF&G. That's not enough? Are they going to retry the entire criminal case?

Anonymous said...

I think USF&G has a valid case. If Minor benefited from his crimes, he should have to pay. Don't see why you have a problem with that?

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 2:08--

I would suggest you click on several of the links provided in the post. Those earlier posts will explain why there was no crime here, under the law. If USF&G believes some wrongdoing was missed in the criminal case, perhaps the claim has some legs to stand on. But if the insurance company is relying totally on what came out at the criminal trial . . . well, "there is no there there."

legalschnauzer said...

The following paragraph from Columbia U law prof. Scott Horton, of Harper's, speaks volumes about the rampant corruption in the Minor criminal prosecution:

"According to [Wes] Teel—and he was backed up on this point by every criminal lawyer and prosecutor I interviewed in Mississippi—federal prosecutors in Mississippi get to pick the judge before whom they can bring a case. In theory the assignment of cases is random, of course. But the case assignment depends on which judge is available at the time the matter first comes up. Therefore, by picking the day on which an indictment is returned to match the date on which the desired judge is sitting in the desired courthouse, the prosecutor gets to select his judge. Since grand jury proceedings are cloaked in secrecy, we don’t of course know what U.S. Attorney Lampton and his office did. But it’s entirely possible that they waited until Wingate was up to get their indictment returned and thereby insured that the case was assigned to him."

e.a.f. said...

Mr. Minor went to jail for a crime which didn't exist on the books at that time? O.K., that is interesting. Truth, Justice, and the /American way. Sounds more like a third world dictatorship. /Sort of like Putin's Russia.

It is amazing that in a country which has so many checks and balances in its legal system, people can be sent to jail for something which isn't illegal. I know this is the south, but this is more than backwards. This is like Iran or Egypt. Actually some of these southern courts are making countries like Iran and Egypt look good. Oh, well it would appear the federal government hasn't done much to clean up this little side show either. You really have to wonder what American politicians are actually doing to earn their money.

Anonymous said...

spies have real dirty on the corrupt criminal class that does whatever to get paid, look like the role play is real, civilized and in fact, a pillar of society.

selling injustices and untruths and laughing all the way off shore investing in more corruption

gotta wonder what toxic shame, rules