My research indicates that it is very rare for the press to break a story about judicial corruption, at either the state or federal level. Such cases almost always come to light only when the FBI gets involved and an investigation is made public.
Why is that? My guess is that reporters and editors are intimidated by judges, and judges and lawyers do their best to make the whole legal process seem baffling. Most media outlets don't want to invest the time and effort it takes to truly understand and uncover judicial corruption. Better to wait for the feds to do something and bring you a press release.
So again, you see the critical role of federal law enforcement in investigating and punishing rogue state judges. But we live in a time when the Bush Department of Justice is under investigation itself, for apparently practicing a blatant form of selective prosecution.
Does that mean some cases of judicial corruption will be investigated while others will be ignored? Does that mean such decisions will be based largely on political considerations? Does that mean that Republican judges, such as the ones I've encountered, can violate their oath (and federal law) with impunity without any fear of being punished? Does that mean Democratic judges, who may or may not have broken the law, are more likely to draw scrutiny?
Let's take a look at the Deep South and some recent or ongoing investigations/prosecutions of corrupt judges in state courts:
* First there is the Mississippi case we've noted several times involving attorney Paul Minor and judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel. Sentencing came down in the case about 10 days ago.
* An investigation of alleged judicial corruption was conducted for more than four years in Tampa, Florida. The case was closed last fall.
* Operation Wrinkled Robe has produced numerous guilty pleas in New Orleans, Louisiana.
* An ongoing bribery investigation in El Paso, Texas, has produced a guilty plea from at least one judge.
* A judge in Edinburg, Texas, committed suicide in 2005 amidst an FBI corruption probe.
You see that judicial corruption is not a taboo topic for the Bush Justice Department. It seems to prosecute some cases with gusto. But what is the difference between these cases and my case that Alice Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, has so vigorously ignored?
Well, here's what I think: My case involves all Republican judges, who are all white and almost all male. And the case began in a suburban/rural jurisdiction.
I would invite readers to study the cases noted above and see if you discern a pattern to the prosecutions. See if you notice characteristics in these cases that are different from those present in the Legal Schnauzer case.
It might help to check a recent post from Scott Horton of Harper's, about a Wisconsin prosecutor with a history of going after people who fit a certain profile--Democrats from minority groups and inner cities--while largely ignoring potential wrongdoers from outside that profile.
Is that what's going on in these recent cases from the Deep South? I can't say for sure. I certainly support the prosecution of public officials who truly violate federal law, regardless of political affiliation. And I suspect judicial corruption is a bipartisan problem.
But a glance at recent judicial-corruption cases in the Deep South reveals some disturbing trends. And you learn even more when you look closely at a particular case. To do that, we will turn west to our neighbors in Mississippi.