Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hope for Justice in Mississippi--and Beyond

The Jackson Free Press, an alternative weekly in Jackson, Mississippi, has an excellent piece on recent signs that the Justice Department might be conducting a serious investigation of possible political prosecutions around the country, particularly in the Deep South.

The article, by writer Adam Lynch, brings to mind a number of questions--both about justice and the press:

* Does the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) have the kind of independent, tough-minded investigators needed to get to the bottom of the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, the Don Siegelman case in Alabama, and other suspect prosecutions around the country?

* Is OPR Counsel H. Marshal Jarrett the kind of guy who really can further the cause of justice? Or is he just another "cover" guy for the Bush administration?

* Were the Minor and Siegelman cases connected, and just how corrupt were the federal judges who handled the cases?

* Why does Jackson, Mississippi, have a feisty, inquisitive alternative weekly and Birmingham does not?

As for the first two questions, answers are varied. Lynch says Siegelman is not expecting much from the OPR folks. One of Siegelman's lawyers is more hopeful:

Siegelman told the JFP that he believed prosecutors pursued his case with Rove nipping at their heels all the way. He said the OPR office, which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, investigating the issue could be compared to “asking the chickens if they feel comfortable with the fox guarding the hen house.”

“Karl Rove has had eight years to get his people embedded in the office. I have no reason to have anything other than high regard for H. Marshall Jarrett, but I don’t know him. I don’t know anybody’s background, so I can’t really speak on them,” Siegelman said.

One of Siegelman’s lawyers, Vince Kilborn of Alabama, said he had met with the Judiciary Committee’s lawyers and Chairman Conyers, and felt Jarrett could be an independent party to the investigation. “The Judiciary Committee has faith in him. He’s a career guy. He’s been there a while,” Kilborn said.

As for the third question, possible connections between the Minor and Siegelman cases remain unclear. But Lynch shines light on judicial corruption in the Minor case, giving a scathing review of U.S. Judge Henry Wingate. Evidence strongly suggests that U.S. Judge Mark Fuller was every bit as corrupt in his handling of the Siegelman case:

The prosecution had an easier time convincing a jury of Minor’s wrongdoing in 2006 after Judge Henry Wingate ruled out the necessity of quid pro quo—proof of bribery—in Minor’s case. Wingate also allowed prosecutors to tell the jury that the allegedly “purchased” rulings could be perfectly “legal and correct.”

As for the final question, I don't know why Birmingham's two alternative weeklies are so lame, when it comes to real news, compared to the Jackson Free Press.

Here's the lowdown on Birmingham's "alternative press." One of the papers, Black & White, actually has a clear conservative bent. What in the heck is alternative about that? The corporate press in Alabama isn't already conservative enough? Black & White bills itself as Birmingham's "city paper," and I guess it is if you happen to be a corporate chieftain or a member of a suburban megachurch. But don't we already have The Birmingham News for those folks? I have no idea what purpose Black & White serves, other than selling advertising.

The other paper, Birmingham Weekly, isn't much better. The Weekly does some nice arts stuff, and I invariably enjoy Courtney Haden's column. But the paper is pretty much worthless when it comes to news. The Weekly seems to have a somewhat progressive tone, but it doesn't do much with it. The Bush Justice Department scandal is one of the nation's most important domestic stories over the past year or so, and its roots clearly are in Alabama. Has the Weekly done anything of substance on the story? If it has, I've sure missed it.

From a personal perspective, I've contacted managing editor Phillip Jordan and writer Kyle Whitmire about the gross corruption I've witnessed in Alabama state courts, going all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court. I've made it clear that my experience has ties to regional and national issues. You would think such a story might be worth at least an inquiry from the Weekly's intrepid reporters. I've never received the first word in reply.

Was that because I pointed out that the corrupt judges in my case were all Republicans? If so, it appears that Jordan and Whitmire are more interested in covering up news than they are unearthing news. Again, don't we already have The Birmingham News for that.

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