Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mississippi Churning, Part II

The Paul Minor case is based in Mississippi, so maybe it's appropriate that it involves elements of a John Grisham novel. It also bears an eerie resemblance to the Don Siegelman case in Alabama.

For example, on September 15, 2003, a fire heavily damaged the Biloxi law office of defendant John Whitfield, who is black. Fire officials later determined the blaze was arson. To my knowledge, the crime has not been solved (Jackson Clarion-Ledger, August 13, 2005).

In the Siegelman case, Rainsville attorney Dana Jill Simpson had a fire at her home around the time she was preparing to sign an affidavit stating that the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated.

The Minor case involves some folks of substantial means. Defendant Paul Minor has a net worth of $12.6 million. From 1994 to 2003, the time period in question, cases handled by Minor & Associates brought in more than $71 million. According to Minor's defense attorneys, only 2.2 percent of that--$1.6 million--came from the cases federal prosecutors cited in their indictment (Biloxi Sun Herald, June 3, 2005).

For good measure, Minor earns $2.5 million a year from a settlement with tobacco companies. (Biloxi Sun Herald, Sept. 8, 2007).

All of which makes you wonder: Why would Paul Minor bother with bribing state judges? Why would he bother to work at all? (I sure wouldn't if I had that kind of cash.)

But here is the bigger question: How did Paul Minor wind up facing an 11-year sentence in federal prison? Oliver Diaz, a former State Supreme Court Justice who was acquitted in the case, made his feelings clear after the sentences were handed down.

"We have a U.S. Justice Department that is corrupt," Diaz said. "And I think we've seen the result of a political prosecution, and we see three men who really are innocent being sent to prison." (Biloxi Sun Herald, Sept. 8, 2007)

The prosecutor and judge were Republican appointees. Mississippi has non-partisan judicial races, but it is well understood that Minor, Teel, and Whitfield are Democrats. Minor particularly was known for using his wealth to help Democratic candidates. Diaz is a Republican, but he and Minor have been longtime friends, and Diaz enjoyed bipartisan support.

Is there evidence to support Diaz' claims of a political prosecution? Let's take a look.

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