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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

MS Federal Judge Henry Wingate Has An Ugly Habit Of Allowing Cases To Gather Dust On His Docket

Henry Wingate
The federal judge who presided over the Bush-era political prosecution of former Mississippi attorney Paul Minor has a history of letting cases sit for months, even years, with little or no action on them.

We have shown in a series of posts on the Minor criminal case that U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, based in Jackson, Mississippi, is breathtakingly corrupt.  That issue takes on added urgency now that Minor has been released from prison and is facing a lawsuit from insurance giant USF&G that grew out of the criminal prosecution--and Wingate is in the dubious position of presiding over that case, too.

A lack of ethics is not the only troubling feature of Henry Wingate's "judicial temperament." A recent report from the Jackson Free Press (JFP) indicates the judge is lazy, incompetent, or both. In a piece by R.L. Nave, JFP reports that it obtained a March 22, 2013, report showing Wingate has a backlog of cases that is far larger than those of other judges. 

The report shows Wingate had 49 cases on his docket, with 97 different motions pending longer than six months. Wingate's backlog far exceeds that of the judge with the second highest number of motions older than six months—Judge Carlton Reeves, with 17 six-month-old motions pending as of March. Judge Keith Starrett had six motions pending, while the other 11 federal judges had no cases older than six months, the report shows.

What does this mean for parties who come before Wingate? Nave spells it out in the JFP report:

On June 26, 2002, Roger Johnson was alone in a recreation room at the Hinds County Detention Center when a group of fellow prisoners attacked him. Johnson, who is serving a 30-year-sentence for armed robbery at East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian, filed a lawsuit in federal court against then-Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin and jail guard Delanio Sanders for failing to protect him from the assault.
That was May 2004.
Since Johnson filed his suit, Hinds County has a new sheriff, and Mississippi has a new governor, but one aspect of the lawsuit hasn't changed: It remains on the civil docket of U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate.

The judicial and legal establishment is well aware of Wingate's tendency to sit on cases.  In 2010, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals scolded Wingate for taking more than six years to enter a final judgment in a civil case. From a law.com article about the Fifth Circuit's finding in the case:

In a footnote to its decision released earlier this month, the panel said, "the district court sat on the verdict for six and one half years before it entered a judgment. It is truly regrettable that the plaintiff has been denied his just recovery for these several years by the lack of judicial diligence."

If you live in the Southern District of Mississippi, Henry Wingate has the authority to take away your freedom--even if you committed no crime, as was the case with the Minor prosecution. He also has the authority to take away some, or all, of your assets--money and personal property that perhaps you have lawfully accumulated over your entire life.

We have put this sort of power in the hands of a man who cannot show the slightest hint of "judicial diligence"? That is a frightening proposition, and even lawyers in Wingate's district know it. From the JFP article:

The JFP contacted several attorneys who declined to speak on the record about Wingate's lack of urgency in dispensing with his cases, but the consensus among attorneys who practice in federal court seems to be that drawing Wingate is undesirable.
One attorney, who practices in federal court and did agree to speak but asked that we not use his or her name, said Wingate's delays "have a very harmful impact" on plaintiffs who are seeking relief through the courts.
"The old adage that 'justice delayed is justice denied' is very apt here," the attorney said.


Anonymous said...

If this guy is such a bad judge, maybe the public is better served if he doesn't rule quickly on cases.

Anonymous said...

We gave this guy a lifetime appointment, but no one can force him to do his job--much less force him to do his job according to the law? Pathetic.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 5:58--

I hear you. The bad part, of course, is that plaintiffs who have valid cases and have genuinely been wronged get justice denied. Defendants, of course, don't mind such delays. It works to their advantage.

Anonymous said...

No excuse for a judge to sit on a case for six years. This guy should be disciplined in some way.

Anonymous said...

The Fifth Circuit upbraided Wingate for lack of judicial diligence, but didn't they uphold most of the oonvictions in the Minor case. Those two things, together, don't compute.

legalschnauzer said...

Good point, @7:03. In general, the Fifth Circuit overturned the bribery convictions and upheld the honest-services fraud in Minor--and the 11th Circuit did the exact opposite in Siegelman. That says a lot about the nonsense that comes out of our federal courts.