Political Prisoners

You must read this story by Adam Cohen in today’s New York Times:

Paul Minor is the son of Bill Minor, a legendary Mississippi journalist and chronicler of the civil rights movement. He is also a wealthy trial lawyer and a mainstay of Mississippi’s embattled Democratic Party. Mr. Minor has contributed $500,000 to Democrats over the years, including more than $100,000 to John Edwards, a fellow trial lawyer. He fought hard to stop the Mississippi Supreme Court from being taken over by pro-business Republicans.

Mr. Minor’s political activity may have cost him dearly. He is serving an 11-year sentence, convicted of a crime that does not look much like a crime at all. The case is one of several new ones coming to light that suggest that the department’s use of criminal prosecutions to help Republicans win elections may go farther than anyone realizes. …

…Mr. Minor, whose firm made more than $70 million in fees in his state’s tobacco settlement, suspects it was his role in the 2000 Mississippi Supreme Court elections that put a target on his back. The United States Chamber of Commerce spent heavily to secure a Republican, pro-business majority, while Mr. Minor contributed heavily to the other side.

The Chamber of Commerce was particularly eager to replace Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. on the state Supreme Court. After Justice Diaz was re-elected, the Bush Justice Department hit him with a number of fraud, bribery, and tax evasion charges, none of which stood up in court. Justice Diaz, acquitted, is still serving on the bench.

But Paul Minor was not so fortunate. Although he was acquitted of a number of similar charges brought against him, the feds finally found a jury that would convict Minor on vague allegations of trying to get an “unfair advantage” from a judge.

Mr. Minor’s prosecution, like the others in this scandal, gave a big boost to the Republican Party. The case intimidated trial lawyers into stopping their political activity. “The disappearance of the trial-lawyer money all but wiped out the Democratic Party in Mississippi,” Stephanie Mencimer reports in her book, “Blocking the Courthouse Door.” …

…And there is the matter of timing. The prosecution of Mr. Minor and Justice Diaz came just as Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, was running for re-election against Republican Haley Barbour. The Republicans spent heavily to tie Mr. Musgrove to Mr. Minor, and Mr. Musgrove was defeated.

And then there’s Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, serving more than seven years in prison on dubious charges, and Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin civil servant who was freed after serving four months on baseless corruption charges.

In Wisconsin, Ms. Thompson’s trial coincided perfectly with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s re-election campaign, and Republicans tried to link Doyle to Thompson. Mr. Siegelman’s prosecution looks like it was timed to prevent him from becoming governor again. It may be that all three of these cases were simply attempts to use the Justice Department to get Republican governors elected.

Ms. Thompson was fortunate to get a good federal appeals court panel, which ordered her released. Mr. Minor and Mr. Siegelman may not be so lucky. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and many other key players in the United States attorneys scandal are gone, but Congress has a lot more work to do in uncovering the damage they have done to the justice system.

Yesterday, Adam Zagorin reported for Time magazine that Karl Rove himself may be linked to the Siegelman case.

A Republican lawyer claims she was told that Karl Rove — while serving as President Bush’s top political adviser — had intervened in the Justice Department’s prosecution of Alabama’s most prominent Democrat. Longtime Alabama G.O.P. activist Dana Jill Simpson first made the allegation in June, but has now provided new details in a lengthy sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee. …

…Simpson said in June that she heard a close associate of Rove say that the White House political adviser “had spoken with the Department of Justice” about “pursuing” Don Siegelman, a former Democratic governor of Alabama, with help from two of Alabama’s U.S. attorneys. Siegelman was later indicted on 32 counts of corruption, convicted on seven of them, and is currently serving an 88-month sentence in Federal prison.

TIME has obtained a copy of Simpson’s 143-page sworn statement to the Judiciary Committee. She recalls conversations in early 2005 with Rob Riley, Jr., son of Alabama’s current Republican governor, over his father’s coming gubernatorial race, in which Siegelman appeared to be the top Democratic challenger. The younger Riley, she says, told her that his father and Bill Canary, the state’s top Republican political operative and a longtime friend of Rove, contacted Rove in late 2004, after which he intervened with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity section to push for criminal prosecution of Siegelman. Months later, in May 2005, Siegelman was indicted, setting off a chain of events that led to his imprisonment and the end of his political career.

When Georgia Thompson’s case was reviewed by an appeals court last spring, one of the judges actually said:

“I have to say it strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin,” federal Appeals Judge Diane Wood told prosecutors. “I’m not sure what your actual theory in this case is.”

4 thoughts on “Political Prisoners

  1. Jailing political rivals on weak, trumped-up charges… One more step towards recreating the old Soviet Union under Stalin. Better start learning Russian.

    We have room for a Gulag in the tundra of norther Alaska, don’t we? Da!

  2. Anyone who doesn’t think these people wouldn’t conspire to steal elections should consider this – these are serious crimes. Putting someone in jail to further your poltical career is about as low as you can go. I hope they nail these suckers.

  3. Paul Minor and former Judge Whitfield are guilty of much more than they were convicted of. I’ve known these guys for over a decade and know how Minor stole money from his client’s settlements to bribe judges. To think they are innocent because the government did not catch all the other guilty is ludicrous. It will set a precedent that will prevent our courts from conviction those rich enough to buy protection. In stead of focusing so much attention to getting Minor off, lets give as much attention to convicting all those judges who are on the take, who sell their decisions.

    Perhaps Mississippi Bar and the Commission on Judicial Performance need to answer for why they allowed judicial bribery in the first place. Way before the federal indictments, both were given evidence that the bribery had occurred. They chose not to investigate and remained silent ever since.

  4. I’ve known these guys for over a decade

    And we can take your word on this because … ?

    Basically, you’re saying that the prosecution was flamingly incompetent, because in spite of numerous attempts to convict these guys they got them only on half-assed charges? And incompetence is better than thuggery. OK.

    I bet you think Bill Clinton was guilty of all the stuff Ken Start couldn’t convict him on, too.

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