Thursday, October 11, 2007

Spotlight Shines on Minor Case

Adam Cohen writes about the Paul Minor case in today's editorial section of The New York Times.

Cohen notes some of the key issues, and alarming ironies, involved in the Minor case. "Mississippi's loose campaign finance laws allow lawyers and companies to contribute heavily to the judges they appear before. That is terrible for justice, since the courts are teeming with perfectly legal conflicts of interest. It also creates an ideal climate for partisan selective prosecution. Since everyone is making contributions and nurturing friendships that look questionable, a prosecutor can haul any lawyer and judge he doesn't like before a grand jury and charge corruption."

Cohen draws connections between the Minor case and the Don Siegelman (Alabama) and Georgia Thompson (Wisconsin) prosecutions. Like Siegelman, Minor was tried twice. The first time around, Minor beat many of the charges, and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on others. "Federal prosecutors went after him again, and this time Mr. Minor was convicted on vague allegations of trying to get 'an unfair advantage' from judges--the very thing Mississippi's lax campaign finance laws are set up to allow.

"The case fits a familiar pattern. The corruption Mr. Minor was charged with was disturbingly vague, as it was with Ms. Thompson, whose only 'crime' was awarding a contract to the lowest bidder, and Mr. Siegelman, who was convicted for fairly routine political behavior."

Cohen notes the curious timing of the prosecutions. The first Minor prosecution came as Governor Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, was running for re-election against Republican Haley Barbour. "Republicans spent heavily to tie Mr. Musgrove to Mr. Minor, and Mr. Musgrove was defeated," Cohen writes.

In Wisconsin, Thompson's trial coincided with Democratic Governor Jim Doyle's re-election campaign, with Republicans linking Thompson to Doyle. And Siegelman's prosecution looks like it was timed to prevent him from becoming governor again.

"Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and many other key players in the United States attorneys scandal are gone," Cohen writes. "But Congress has a lot more work to do in uncovering the damage they have done to the justice system."

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