Posts Tagged ‘Paul Minor’

Mississippi verdict aftermath

As we reported Friday, a jury in the Magnolia State’s money-for-judges trial acquitted state supreme court justice Oliver Diaz Jr. of all charges, rendered not guilty verdicts on some of the charges against two of the three other defendants, and was unable to agree on verdicts in the other cases. Now Howard Bashman (Aug. 14) rounds up links to the extensive coverage of the case published in recent days in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and Biloxi Sun-Herald.

More: According to the Sun-Herald account, after agreeing on acquitting Diaz, nine jurors wanted to convict the other defendants of some charges, but three jurors insisted on across-the-board acquittals and would not budge from that position. “What’s wrong with helping a judge?” said juror Shirley Griffin, 64. “They were all friends. It was (Paul Minor’s) money, not the government’s money. It’s his business what he does with it. (Minor) has done a lot of good things. I don’t know him but I know of him, and he’s done a lot of good. And his daddy used to have articles in the paper.” Griffin described the holdouts against conviction as “me and the two white people”, which might be considered an unexpected pattern given that, as the Sun-Herald reported, “The defense team played to a jury of 10 blacks and two whites, frequently bringing up the defendants’ support for civil rights.” And the Clarion-Ledger reports: “The U.S. attorney’s office is uncertain it will retry Minor, former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Chancery Judge Wes Teel on charges the jury didn’t reach a verdict on.”

Jury acquits Diaz, other charges unresolved

A Jackson jury has acquitted Mississippi Supreme Court justice Oliver Diaz Jr. of all four charges against him. “The jurors found attorney Paul Minor [and] former trial judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel innocent of some of the 17 counts and failed to return a verdict on other charges.” (Biloxi Sun-Herald, Aug. 12; Jimmie Gates, “Diaz innocent on all judicial bribery charges; no verdict reached on some charges against three others”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Aug. 12). Specifically, it cleared attorney Paul Minor of extortion, bribery and four mail fraud counts, while failing to reach a verdict on racketeering, wire fraud and two bribery counts against him; cleared former judge John Whitfield of wire fraud, while failing to reach a verdict on bribery and mail fraud charges; and failed to reach a verdict on bribery, wire fraud or mail fraud counts against former judge Wes Teel. For our earlier coverage, see Aug. 11, Aug. 7 and links from there.

“Show of Minor support is major”

Latest on the money-for-judges scandal detailed here Aug. 7: “Biloxi attorney Paul Minor says friends are showing up to support him during a judicial bribery trial, but prosecutors think the defense team is manipulating the jury. …During the trial, defendants have stressed their empathy and support for ‘the little guy’ and minority causes.” The jury forewoman revealed in her questionnaire that she had handed out fliers for former U.S. Rep. Wayne Dowdy, and none other than Rep. Dowdy in person dropped by to sit behind the defense table on Monday, as did Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Questionnaires also revealed that the jury is highly religious, and the Rev. Joe Doss, who is at once a lawyer, a friend of the Minor family and a retired bishop, sits with the family in a clerical collar and bishop’s purple shirt; the Rev. Doss concedes he’s looked at the jury questionnaires, “but that’s not why I’m here”. “[Defense attorney] Michael Crosby, who represents [former circuit judge John] Whitfield, quoted from the Bible in closing arguments. Crosby also managed to work in a biblical phrase one juror included on her questionnaire: ‘I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence my help cometh.'” Doesn’t Americans United for Separation of Church and State ever worry about this sort of thing? (Anita Lee, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Aug. 10).

Jury deliberates in Miss. judicial scandal

Mississippi’s long-running judicial corruption trial is now in the hands of a jury. “The case has shown about $300,000 in loans, cash and third-party payments flowing from a wealthy lawyer to a state Supreme Court justice and local judges and apparent disregard of state campaign-finance and ethics rules.” (Geoff Pender, “A legal eye”, Biloxi Sun-Herald (henceforth BSH), Aug. 4; Julie Goodman, “Power, expertise convene in trial”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger (henceforth JCL), Aug. 1; Holbrook Mohr, “Defense lawyer denies unfair link between judges, attorney”, AP/BSH, Aug. 5; Julie Goodman, “Deliberations begin in Diaz fraud case”, JCL, Aug. 6).

The indictments in the case were handed down after a federal investigation found that prominent plaintiff’s attorney Paul Minor had funneled money and services to several local judges; at the trial, lawyer Bobby Dallas testified that Minor urged him to channel $20-40,000 to state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., implying a connection between such assistance and Diaz’s help in preserving a multi-million-dollar award for one of Dallas’s clients before the high court. (“Lawyer says he was pressured to give money to Miss. justice”, AP/Picayune Item, Jul. 7). Diaz’s lawyers pointed out at trial that their client did not rule on any of Minor’s own cases before the court, while prosecutors sought to establish that Diaz removed himself from one large such case only after headlines had appeared announcing a federal investigation of his dealings with Minor (Geoff Pender, “Diaz’s actions, inactions probed”, BSH, Jun. 29; Julie Goodman and Jimmie E. Gates, “Diaz defense: No evidence of corruption”, JCL, Jul. 3).

As the trial neared its end, Judge Wingate dismissed solicitation of bribery and extortion charges against Diaz, leaving four remaining counts against him, and one solicitation of bribery charge against Minor, leaving more than a dozen counts against him. Wingate said prosecutors had failed to establish that Diaz knew of conversations in which Minor allegedly applied improper pressure on attorneys to donate to Diaz. (“Judge dismisses bribery count in judicial bribery trial”, Picayune Item, Aug. 3). Former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Chancery Judge Wes Teel are also defendants along with Minor and Diaz, both accused of receiving improper payments from Minor.

Neither side called Richard (“Dickie”) Scruggs as a witness, although colorful testimony emerged about his support for the Mississippi judiciary:

Scruggs’ personal secretary, prosecution witness Charlene Bosarge, supplied a bag of cash to Jennifer Diaz [then-wife of Justice Diaz] for the campaign, Jennifer Diaz told FBI agents.

During the April 13-14, 2005, FBI interviews, Jennifer Diaz said Scruggs and Bosarge promised more cash if they could find names to go with it for state campaign disclosure forms. Beginning in 1999, state law limited Supreme Court contributions to $5,000 per person.

Neither side called Jennifer Diaz as a witness, either. (Anita Lee, “Minor defense: Scruggs took lead role in backing Diaz campaign”, BSH, Jul. 29) A major defense theme was that the failure of the prosecution to bring charges against Scruggs proved its political motivation (the prosecutors can’t win, since when charges against Scruggs were in the air they were accused of being politically motivated)(“Government withheld info in Diaz trial, defense says”, AP/JCL, Jul. 28; Anita Lee, “FBI notes steer strategy in judicial trial”, BSH, Aug. 2). According to testimony from Jackson attorney Danny Cupit, Scruggs attempted to convince then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2000 to appoint Judge William Myers to a vacancy on the state high court; Myers had presided over the tobacco-Medicaid suit that made Scruggs a gazillionaire. (“Lawyer says he was pressured to give money to Miss. justice”, AP/Picayune Item, Jul. 7).

Supporters of the various defendants turned out in numbers in the courtroom, among them former state Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae (Anita Lee, “Judge issues jury instructions”, BSH, Aug. 4; Geoff Pender, “Ex-Justice McRae turns up to support Diaz”, BSH, Aug. 5). For our previous coverage of the case, see Oct. 9-10 and Oct. 11-13, 2002; May 7, Jul. 24, Jul. 27, Aug. 19 and Dec. 19, 2003; Feb. 22 and Jul. 12, 2004; and Apr. 30, 2005.

Update: Miss. judge’s wife may cooperate with prosecutors

Jennifer Diaz, ex-wife of Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., has struck a plea agreement with prosecutors and may become “a witness against him and others charged in a federal corruption probe”. “In 2000, Jennifer Diaz received a loan for campaign funds that was guaranteed by prominent trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs in the amount of $80,000,” but did not report the amount as income when Scruggs forgave the debt. Scruggs was not charged in the investigation, which led to indictments of the Diazes, prominent trial lawyer Paul Minor, and two former judges; trial on the charges “is set to begin May 9 in Jackson”. (Jerry Mitchell and Julie Goodman, “Judge’s ex-wife might be prosecution witness, officials say”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Apr. 26). See Feb. 22, 2004 and links from there.

The men behind Edwards

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal arguing that the scariest thing about John Edwards (see Feb. 19 and many other links on this site) is the “tightly organized fund-raising and electoral machine” he has constructed most of whose key backers “are drawn from the tiny handful of tort lawyers even more successful than he”. In particular, four of the most powerful men behind Edwards — Fred Baron, John O’Quinn, Tab Turner, and Paul Minor — personify in various ways some of the most objectionable features of today’s personal-injury litigation scene. (Walter Olson, “Edwards & Co.”, Jul. 12, paid subscribers only)(free version).

Update: “Diaz, Minor face additional counts”

Mississippi Supreme Court scandal, cont’d: “A federal grand jury added extortion and attempted bribery charges Friday against Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and trial lawyer Paul Minor, postponing their March 1 trial. … The new charges allege Minor in 2001 tried to extort $20,000 for Diaz from trial lawyers representing Dawn Bradshaw, who was awarded $9 million after poor hospital care led to pneumonia and brain damage.

“The high court upheld the $9 million verdict Oct. 11, 2001. According to the indictment, 14 days later, Minor told two unnamed lawyers that Diaz ‘helped swing the vote … in favor of their client, Dawn Bradshaw, and that the vote could have gone either way but for … Diaz’s influence,’ pointing out the justice would soon be voting on the motion for rehearing their case. Minor asked the pair for at least $20,000, which would pay for a function at the bed and breakfast operated by Jennifer Diaz [ex-wife of the justice], the indictment says. The lawyers refused, the indictment says.” Minor called the new charges “false” while his attorney, Abbe Lowell of Washington, D.C., called them “outrageous” and said his client would plead not guilty to them. An attorney for Diaz said his client neither spoke to the lawyers from whom the indictment says he attempted to extort money nor “authorized anyone to speak to them on his behalf.” (Jerry Mitchell, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Feb. 21). See Dec. 19, Aug. 19, Jul. 27 and links from there. Update Apr. 30, 2005: Diaz’s ex-wife reaches plea agreement with prosecutors.

Mississippi ripples

Continuing fallout from the Mississippi scandal: “State Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and two former judges are under indictment for loans guaranteed or paid off by Gulf Coast trial lawyer Paul Minor, but they are not the only ones to receive such help from Minor.” State Chief Justice Ed Pittman, for example, benefited from a $40,000 loan guarantee. (Jerry Mitchell, “Loan to chief justice cited”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Aug. 17). “Pascagoula lawyer Dickie Scruggs said he guaranteed an $80,000 loan to state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. in his 2000 runoff,” saying it was necessary to keep business interests from buying the court (“Tobacco lawyer: Influence not factor in funding help”, Aug. 17; Jack Elliott, Jr., “Scruggs defends Diaz, Tuck loans”, AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, Aug. 15)(see Jul. 27 and links from there).

Read On…

Update: Miss. high court justice, trial lawyer indicted

“A Mississippi Supreme Court justice and a wealthy attorney who helped land the state millions in tobacco settlement money were among five people indicted Friday on federal fraud and bribery charges. Biloxi attorney Paul Minor is accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., Diaz’ former wife, Jennifer, and to two lower court judges. In return, Minor allegedly received favorable treatment for Minor and his clients in cases involving multimillion dollar judgments.” The 16-count indictment also names former Harrison County Judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield. Prominent in the state’s tobacco litigation, Minor is the son of a well known Magnolia State political columnist, Bill Minor. (Jack Elliott Jr., “Justice, Attorney Charged in Mississippi”, AP/Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jul. 25; Jerry Mitchell, “Justice, 4 others indicted”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jul. 26; Jerry Mitchell, “Charges may alter opinions of Miss. judiciary”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jul. 27; Jack Elliott Jr., “Indictment of justice and lawyer come amid debate between Mississippi business, trial lawyers”, AP/New Orleans Times Picayune, Jul. 27). More: Beth Musgrave, “‘Go see Paul Minor'”, Biloxi Sun Herald, May 18. For our earlier coverage, see: Oct. 9-10 and Oct. 11-13, 2002; May 7 and Jul. 24, 2003.