Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Siegelman, Minor, and Tobacco

We've noted a number of similarities between the Don Siegelman prosecution in Alabama and the Paul Minor prosecution in Mississippi.

But perhaps the most fascinating connection involves the tobacco industry.

Both Siegelman and Minor, ardent Democrats, have histories of taking on the tobacco industry--and coming out on top. Meanwhile, a number of high-profile Republicans from Alabama and Mississippi, some with national profiles, have been ardent supporters of the tobacco industry. They also have been loyal Bushies.

Did Siegelman and Minor's willingness to fight Big Tobacco--and their audacity to win--make them targets of the Bush Justice Department? Is that essentially the reason both men currently are in federal prison?

Let's look at some history. The national effort to fight the tobacco industry, and force it to help pay for the costs associated with smoking-related illnesses, started in Mississippi. Mike Moore, then attorney general of Mississippi, was out front in the battle, and the two most prominent trial attorneys involved in the Magnolia State were Paul Minor and Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.

Negotiations between states and the tobacco industry ended in 1997 with a $368.5 billion out-of-court settlement proposal involving 40 state lawsuits. Mississippi received almost $4 billion from the settlement, and Minor received fees that helped make him a wealthy man--and a prominent benefactor for Democratic political candidates.

While Minor had the support of Mississippi's attorney general in the battle against Big Tobacco, Siegelman received nothing but interference from Bill Pryor, then Alabama's attorney general. Siegelman helped sue tobacco companies on behalf of the University of South Alabama and initially had UAB, the state's flagship medical campus, also involved. But UAB backed out at Pryor's urging.

Pryor adamantly opposed suing the industry, calling it bad law motivated by greedy trial lawyers, according to a report in the Mobile Press-Register. But Siegelman pushed forward, and Alabama wound up with $3.2 billion to be paid over 25 years.

That evidently did not sit well with Pryor. When Siegelman became governor of Alabama, Pryor wasted little time in initiating a criminal investigation of the administration. Pryor's effort eventually led to an investigation and prosecution of Siegelman by the Bush Department of Justice (DOJ).

And how did Pryor fare with the Bushies? Not bad. Despite strong opposition from Democrats, he received a lifetime appointment as a federal judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Across the border in Mississippi, the imprint of Big Tobacco remains huge. The state's governor is Haley Barbour, former chair of the Republican National Committee. And what did Barbour do between his gig as RNC chair and his gig as Mississippi governor? He worked as a lobbyist in Washington--for tobacco companies.

Let's consider the career arcs of Siegelman and Minor for a moment. Siegelman was a remarkably successful Democrat in Alabama, at a time when the state was turning more and more Republican. In fact, it became common practice for the state's prominent Democrats to change parties (hello, Richard Shelby!). But Siegelman remained loyal to his roots, rising to the state's highest office. And where has it landed him? In federal prison.

As for Minor, he was more of a behind-the-scenes figure politically. But in many ways, his financial clout made him a more important figure in Mississippi than Siegelman was in Alabama. Minor took on the tobacco industry and the asbestos industry, and took cases for working-class folks like Archie Marks and Richard Ladner. Where has it landed him? In federal prison.

Now imagine this? What if Don Siegelman had followed the crowd and switched parties? Where would he be now? Finishing up a second term as Alabama's governor? Preparing for a run at the U.S. Senate? Being talked about as a vice presidential, or even presidential, candidate? Anyone think he would be in federal prison?

And Paul Minor? What if he had chosen to represent Phillip Morris instead of Archie Marks? Minor would still be a wealthy man, maybe even a wealthier man. Anyone think he would be in federal prison?

1 comment:

Nancy Swan said...

This relentless pursuit to retry these cases misses the point and leaves out one very important point. These criminals did not stand trial in front of Republicans. They were convicted by a jury of their peers, and by a judge. Let it be noted that these guys approved the jury selection. Perhaps if your selective mind spent more time in the courtroom instead of composing your diatribe on a computer your war with words would have more punch.