Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spotlight Shines on Minor Case

Two Mississippi reporters recently have focused attention on the Paul Minor case and the issue of selective prosecution.

Blogger Casey Ann Hughes, Ph.D., has a splendid piece at the Cottonmouth blog, focusing on former Mississippi judge Wes Teel, his family, and the human costs of partisan prosecutions. Hughes' piece is cross-posted at The Natchez Blog.

Hughes has a doctorate in psychology, so she offers special insight into the emotional toll taken by a justice department out of control. Much of the coverage of the Minor case has focused on Paul Minor himself (an attorney) and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz (who was acquitted on all charges). Former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield (who were convicted along with Minor in the second trial) have been somewhat in the background.

Hughes connects us with the human side of this story. She introduces us to Teel, his wife, and grandchildren, and includes photos with the story. She notes that Teel's wife was a longtime public-school teacher before having to retire on disability because of multiple sclerosis, and she depends heavily on her husband for support. Her husband, however, is due to report to federal prison in late December.

Some readers might say, "Hey, Mr. Teel was convicted of a crime. His family will just have to tough it out. Mr. Teel should have thought of his family before committing bribery, honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy, etc."

Those readers would have a good point--if Mr. Teel had actually committed those crimes. But through 20-plus posts in our "Mississippi Churning" series here at Legal Schnauzer, we have shown that Teel, Minor, and Whitfield did not commit the crimes for which they were charged. A jury convicted them only because Judge Henry Wingate, a Republican appointee, made numerous unlawful decisions in the case. His rulings related to expert witnesses for the defense and jury instructions on bribery and honest-services mail fraud were particularly off target.

Hughes opens her piece by noting that political prisoners are associated with Stalin's Soviet Union, Hussein's Iraq, Franco's Spain, and Hitler's Germany.

She closes on a note that is both hopeful and distressing:

"These men will eventually be cleared, but it will take years. In the meantime, who will take care of Judge Teel's wife?

"This is a scary story because the United States Justice Department is imprisoning innocent citizens for purely political reasons, and quieting political dissent through fear. I've just told you about Mississippi, but it's happening all across the country, in Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin--the list keep growing.

"Is this America, or one of those dictatorships? What country are we living in?"

Joining Hughes in shining light on the Minor case is Adam Lynch of the Jackson Free Press. In a piece titled "Dem at Your Own Risk," Lynch smartly takes the reader through the case, starting with the tort-reform craze that hit Mississippi in 2000 and going through introduction of the Minor case at the recent U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecution.

Lynch includes interesting comments from a number of key players--including prosecutor Dunn Lampton (who indicates he had strong disagreements with the Justice Department on the handling of the case) and Missouri political scientist Donald Shields, whose research has shown the Bush Justice Department has investigated seven times as many Democrats as Republicans.

1 comment:

John Wesley Leek said...

We do have some fine folks in Mississippi; Don't we? :)