Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mississippi Churning, Part IV

Why were attorney Paul Minor and judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield found guilty of all 14 counts against them?

According to press reports, the key issue was concealment. In fact, a headline in the Biloxi Sun Herald on April 1, 2007, seems to say it all: "Conspirators brought down by their clandestine transactions."

The government alleged, and evidently proved to the jury's satisfaction, that Teel and Whitfield attempted to conceal the conspiracy by failing to disclose their financial relationships to Minor on reports required by the state of Mississippi. The government also alleged that Minor attempted to conceal his role by using intermediaries to hide his identity and by causing false documents to be created to hide that he was the source of funds paid on behalf of the judges.

Why was the evidence of concealment so crucial? The Sun Herald's April 1 story makes it clear: "Nobody testified Minor asked the judges for favors. Although the FBI had searched his office, confiscated his files and his computers, no note or e-mail made reference to requests for the judicial favors."

So despite the fact there was no hard evidence that Minor asked for favorable treatment from the judges, the three men are going to federal prison for a total of about 25 years.

How did that happen? After all, in a previous trial, a jury was not able to come to unanimous verdicts on any of the charges against Minor, Teel, and Whitfield.

The Sun Herald reported there were significant differences between the first and second trials. Nine members on the second jury possessed college degrees or some level of higher education. They included an accountant, an educator, and the jury forewoman who worked as a computer-technology instructor for the state Department of Corrections. A forewoman who works for the Department of Corrections? Think she might be pro-prosecution?

(Note: Having represented myself in court, I've had my own experience with jury pools and jury selection. I'm highly suspicious of how jury pools are chosen for certain cases. I will touch on this topic again when I get into more specifics about my trial. The Sun Herald story doesn't say it, but the implication is that the first jury pool was more working class, with more people of color; the second jury pool was more professional class, with fewer people of color. If that was indeed the case you must wonder: How did that happen? Also reminds you of jury-pool issues that were raised in the Siegelman-Scrushy case. And we all know how that second trial turned out--a lot like the second trial in the Minor case.)

Wrote the newspaper: "Prosecutors pored over the first trial transcript and were prepared with objections when defense attorneys attempted to introduce testimony about their clients' good acts, including Minor's loans to other friends and acquaintances."

Judge Henry Wingate often found the objections valid, ruling such testimony irrelevant.

The judge plays a critical role in any trial, so let's take a closer look at some of Judge Wingate's rulings.

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