Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The biggest problems with our justice system involve people, not process. Every now and then, I will discover an element of the law--something from the codes, statutes, procedures, cases--that I take issue with. But for the most part, the actual law makes sense, at least to me. Our system has become a sewer because of the people--lawyers; judges; even clerks, in some cases--who are supposed to apply the law, but instead act in a corrupt fashion.
That's not to say, however, that the system itself doesn't have some perverse qualities. And two of them are on display this week in the Paul Minor case in Mississippi.
Minor, a plaintiff's lawyer known for successfully taking on corporate interests, was convicted on federal corruption charges in April 2007. Wes Teel and John Whitfield, two former state judges, also were convicted in the case, and the men have spent the past three-plus years in federal prison. The Minor story has been a companion case to the Don Siegelman saga in Alabama, two clear examples of political prosecutions during the George W. Bush era.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the bribery convictions in the Minor case and sent it back to the trial court for reconsideration, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's narrowed definition of honest-services fraud in a case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.
Attorneys for the Minor defendants filed a motion to vacate the convictions, and given the actions of higher courts, you would think that might have been a chance for U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate to finally get something right. But you would be wrong.
Wingate ruled yesterday that he is returning Minor, Teel, and Whitfield to prison. The three men had asked to be sentenced to time served, a profoundly reasonable request considering that public documents show they never committed a crime in the first place. But Wingate denied the request. He reduced Minor's 11-year sentence to eight years and reduced Teel's sentence by 22 months and Whitfield's by 19 months.