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.
How absurd is this? Consider this from one of our recent posts about the Minor case:
We've shown through probably 100-plus posts here at Legal Schnauzer that Minor, Teel, and Whitfield indeed were convicted for actions that are not criminal--and it was not even a close call, just as in the Siegelman case in Alabama. What was the gist of the charges? Minor had provided loan guarantees to the state judges, which was legal under Mississippi law. The judges later made rulings that were favorable to Minor's clients, and the government contended that was proof of corrupt acts--that Minor received the rulings in exchange for the loan guarantees.
There were several problems, however, with the government's case. One, there was no testimony or evidence that a quid pro quo agreement existed between Minor and the judges. Second, a review of the cases in question show clearly that the judges ruled correctly, based on the facts and law before them. In other words, Minor's clients prevailed because they deserved to prevail--not because of any hanky panky behind the scenes. Expert witnesses were prepared to testify to this effect at trial, but Wingate did not allow it. In essence, the Minor defendants were not allowed to put on a defense, and Wingate's jury instructions simply were concocted from the bench, having little to do with actual relevant law.
Folks who are interested in background on the Minor case might want to check out these two posts: