Thursday, June 5, 2008

Alternative Weekly Packs a Punch

We recently lamented the fact that Jackson, Mississippi, has a feisty, hard-nosed alternative weekly newspaper--one that covers and uncovers real news--while Birmingham does not.

That lament grows even stronger today after reading an outstanding piece of journalism by Adam Lynch, a reporter for the Jackson Free Press.

Lynch does some serious digging, outlining connections between the Paul Minor prosecution in Mississippi and the Don Siegelman prosecution in Alabama and showing what those cases mean to an American justice system that has been corrupted beyond recognition under George W. Bush.

While the Jackson Free Press has a cover story about the soiling of America's justice system, a story that has its roots in the Deep South, Birmingham Weekly has a cover story about a bicycle race of some sort. And what about Black & White, Birmingham's other "alternative" weekly? Well, it's a conservative alternative paper--yes, such things exist--so I imagine it's doing a major piece on the need for more tax cuts for the upper 1 percent of wage earners.

Lynch's piece is filled with good stuff. Here are a few items that particularly jumped out to us at Legal Schnauzer.

* Lynch notes the success of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce campaign to transform state courts in the South, filling courts with pro-business jurists. One target of the COC campaign was Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz:

Diaz and the other judges had been up against the powerful influence of the U.S. Chamber—an organization that does not have to disclose its donors—which pours huge sums of money into judicial campaigns of corporate-friendly judges who do not favor plaintiffs in lawsuits. That strategy benefits both the corporations being sued, and helps limit the campaign donations that plaintiff attorneys can give the party they tend to support: the Democrats.

The effort has largely succeeded, with a state Supreme Court that routinely reverses Circuit Court rulings against corporations. In one 2007 case, the court even supplanted the 2006 decision of a Hinds County Circuit court jury with its own opinion, ruling in favor of Prudential Insurance Company of America in a $36.4 million lawsuit against it. The court reversed the jury’s decision not because of bad evidence or improper jury instruction, but because it disagreed with the jury’s finding.“Why have juries if all you need to do is overturn them?” asked attorney Alex Alton, who represented the plaintiffs in that case.

* Lynch reveals the brazenness with which Bush-friendly U.S. attorneys have done their dirty work. In this case, the USA is Dunn Lamption, and his target is former Mississippi state judge John Whitfield:

Whitfield told the Judiciary Committee that Lampton did not even try to hide his opinion on his perceived politics: “He looked me in the eye and told me during the initial (investigation) interview that I would not be involved in the (investigation) if I ‘had not been so liberal while on the bench.'"

Lynch spotlights the corrupt actions of U.S. Judge Henry Wingate in the Paul Minor case. Oliver Diaz, who was acquitted twice and remains on the Mississippi Supreme Court, explains the outrageous nature of Wingate's conduct:

“A ‘quid pro quo’ is a basic requirement in any bribery trial, and Wingate’s ruling on this issue sealed the case for the prosecution,” Diaz wrote in a 2007 letter to the House Judiciary Committee. “This was clearly an error, and one is left to wonder why the judge changed his rulings.”

Wingate also allowed instructions that the jury could find the defendants guilty “even (if the defendant judges’) rulings were legal and correct, that the official conduct would have been done anyway, that the official conduct sought to be influenced was lawful and required by law, and that the official conduct was desirable and beneficial to the public welfare,” Diaz wrote.

“Because they could not show that the rulings were not correct, prosecutors argued that the simple existence of the loans with rulings by the judges equated to federal bribery,” Diaz said in his letter. “With vague charges by prosecutors and rulings like these from the trial judge, it is no surprise that the second jury was able to convict.”

Lynch quotes former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman about the GOP's assault on Southern Democrats:

Siegelman is vocal about what he feels is a GOP war on Alabama Democrats.“They’ve done anything that was necessary to retain or gain power. ... They have gone after Democratic candidates, and they’ve gone after contributors who’ve supported Democrats in an effort to cut off their main supply and stop anybody that they thought might be a rising star at some level,” Siegelman told the JFP earlier this month.

Siegelman’s claims go way back to his successful 2002 re-election for governor. Siegelman calls it a success, even though Republican opponent Bob Riley occupied the governor’s office the following week. Siegelman appeared to have won re-election on Election Day, but then mysteriously lost votes after one county’s vote machine was left in the hands of Republican operatives for a night.

“There was an analysis of the vote patterns in that county, and it showed an electoral anomaly that statistically and mathematically could not have happened,” Siegelman said. “The only possibility was that it was electronically manipulated, and the two people who claimed credit worked with Rove and the Republican Party.”

Those two people, Kitty McCullough and Dan Gans, receive scrutiny from Lynch:

Kitty McCullough—also known as Kelly Kimbrough—was Rove’s business partner at his political consulting firm K. Rove & Company in Alabama. The state Republican Party gave her credit for finding the irregularity that Siegelman describes as vote theft.

The other operative, Dan Gans, is a self-described electronic ballot security expert who later went to work for a Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff-related company, The Alexander Strategy Group—which has been implicated in the Abramoff scandal—and had close ties to now Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Gans claimed credit on his Web site for finding the votes that delivered the election to Riley.

Lynch notes how the Rove anti-plaintiff campaign in Alabama was adopted in Mississippi:

Rove and the anti-plaintiff lobby had already worked their magic on the Alabama State Supreme Court, similar to the transformation of the Mississippi Supreme Court. (Jackson attorney Brad) Sessums, for example, acknowledges the shift in attitude in this state, after the “jackpot justice” fury hit Mississippi, egged on by a non-questioning media that regurgitated the U.S. Chamber rhetoric.

“We tried a neurosurgery case up in Lee County back in February 2002. ... The neurosurgeon got stuck with a $3 million verdict. He appealed. ... It was affirmed 5-3 our way. Then they filed a petition for re-hearing. By the time the decision came up again, the pro-business folks had gotten Jess Dickinson to run against (former Justice) Chuck McRae and beat him, and damned if they didn’t reverse and remand that prior affirmed case 6-to-1 against us,” Sessums said.

Lynch goes on to outline the fear campaign that apparently has been waged against those who have spoken out against the Bush DOJ in the Deep South. He notes a mysterious series of fires, break-ins, and other misfortunes that have befallen those who have stood up to Loyal Bushies.

For anyone interested in the cause of justice in the South, Lynch's piece is must reading.

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