A little more than two weeks have passed since the 60 Minutes report on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, and the story still seems to be resonating.
That speaks volumes for the power of the venerable CBS news magazine. But as we noted in a previous post, 60 Minutes also has its limitations and could only touch on certain aspects of the Siegelman case in a 14-minute time frame.
Here is another limitation facing 60 Minutes: The program cannot limit its reporting to justice-related stories with connections to Alabama. Those of us who have suffered from injustice in Alabama might wish to have 60 Minutes' undivided attention. But alas, the program actually has other stories to report.
In a perfect world, one where 60 Minutes devoted multiple episodes to nothing but justice-related stories connected to Alabama and the Deep South, what might we learn?
* Don Siegelman is not the only political prisoner in the Deep South--In fact, his case might not even be the most egregious example of the Justice Department being used by the Bush Administration for political purposes. That title might belong to the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. As a result of that miscarriage of justice, three men currently are in federal prison for crimes they definitely did not commit. Those men are Biloxi attorney Paul Minor and former state trial-court judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield.
What crimes did the Minor defendants commit? As we have shown in a series of posts here at Legal Schnauzer, they committed no crimes under the law. But Paul Minor, a highly successful trial lawyer who took on the tobacco and asbestos industries (among others), was a generous donor to Democratic candidates and causes. And Teel and Whitfield, while serving in nonpartisan capacities, were known as "plaintiff-friendly" judges. In Karl Rove's America, that's enough to land you in federal prison.
An overview of issues in the Minor case, can be found here.
Is the Minor case actually worse than the Siegelman case? That's hard to say. Kind of like comparing a tonsillectomy to a root canal. Both make you want to cringe.
I would give the Minor case extra points for several reasons. One, because the criminal charges were connected to judicial decisions that can be read on the Internet, it is easier to see the wrongheadedness of the Minor prosecution. Two, because a transcript in the Minor case has been available for quite some time, it is possible to see exactly how the judge used bogus jury instructions to cheat the defendants. Three, the activities in the Minor case were more transparent than those in the Siegelman case. Some of the charges in the Siegelman case revolved around alleged deals that took place behind closed doors. The charges in the Minor case revolved around judicial actions that took place in open court, and in a number of cases, involved rulings by appellate courts.
* As many problems as we have in our federal justice system, our state courts almost certainly are worse--State courts, both in Alabama and elsewhere, affect far more people than do federal courts. If you are a regular Joe, like your humble blogger, you are most likely to wind up in court because of a family matter, an estate matter, a consumer or business matter, a personal-injury matter, a property-related matter, a vehicle-related matter, or a criminal matter. All of these tend to be handled in state court.
Take my case, for example: I wound up in court because a troublesome neighbor, in a variety of ways, was trying to take over property that belongs to my wife and me. Ultimately, we were the victims of a crime, and when we sought to have it prosecuted, the perpetrator was found not guilty, and that allowed him to sue us for a "disfavored tort" known as malicious prosecution. Most Americans don't know it, but this can happen to just about any victim of a crime. If the defendant is found not guilty--and in my case the defendant actually confessed to the crime, according to the trial transcript--he can turn around and sue you. That means you are victimized in criminal court and in civil court.
In my case, my wife and I, at this moment, are being threatened with seizure of our home. All because we were crime victims who decided not to sit back and take it.
It's the kind of thing that most people think can't happen in America. But it does happen--just like Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, and others are made political prisoners.
Alabama is not alone in having sleazy state courts. A reader, an attorney, from my native Missouri compares the legal establishment in his home county to the mafia. Based on my experience, I would guess he is not exaggerating.
This is a story you are not likely to see on 60 Minutes. But if you ever are cheated by a judge or lawyer or prosecutor, it almost certainly will be in state court.
* Judges, at all levels, are the most under-scrutinized public officials in the country--In the Siegelman story, 60 Minutes barely mentioned U.S. Judge Mark Fuller. And yet Harper's legal-affairs contributor Scott Horton and Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks have shown that Fuller has almost certainly committed crimes of far greater severity than anything charged against Siegelman. U.S. Judge Henry Wingate, who "oversaw" the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, might be even worse than Fuller--if that's possible.
Just how bad is Wingate? You can get an idea here.
And state judges? Well, it's truly frightening what they get away with. Consider J. Michael Joiner, G. Dan Reeves, and Ron Jackson, three of the corrupt judges I've encountered in Shelby County, Alabama. They operate in a hermetically sealed courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama, where I suspect they don't even consider the possibility that they might be caught for their crimes. As I will show in upcoming posts, public officials such as the county clerk and the sheriff unquestioningly carry out their corrupt bidding. These judges know that many local lawyers laugh about the shenanigans in their courthouse, but don't dare report it to authorities. They know the local press is a bunch of lapdogs who aren't about to send a skeptical glance their way. And with Bush appointees like Alice Martin running the local U.S. attorney's office, these Republican judges know there is zero chance of prosecution for their federal crimes.
If 60 Minutes doesn't have time to tell these stories, and the local press is too afraid or lazy or biased to do it, how is the public to know about them? All I can say is, "Thank God for the blog."
Do corrupt public officials care about blogs. I've seen definite signs recently that somebody sure as heck cares about my blog. And they want to shut it down.
That story is coming up.