Fifth Circuit Overturns Paul Minor Bribery Conviction | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Fifth Circuit Overturns Paul Minor Bribery Conviction

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The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned some of attorney Paul Minor's 2007 convictions.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has partially overturned the convictions of Mississippi attorney Paul Minor and former judges John Whitfield and Walter "Wes" Teel. A federal jury convicted Minor, Teel and Whitfield in 2007 for federal bribery and honest services fraud, but they appealed, arguing that prosecutors changed jury instructions to muddy the definition of an exchange of services for corruption, among other arguments.

Attorneys representing the three argue that Judge Henry Wingate agreed to loosen the jury instructions so that jurors could decide to convict, even if there was no clear exchange of services, or quid pro quo, between the judges or Minor. All three had successfully fought back allegations of corruption in an earlier trial in which the jury instructions were more clearly defined.

Today the appeals court tossed the federal bribery charges connected to the 2007 trial, leaving intact only the charges of honest services fraud.

"As to Paul Minor, we REVERSE his conviction for conspiracy to commit federal program bribery under Count Two and his convictions for federal program bribery under Counts Twelve and Fourteen. We AFFIRM his convictions on all other counts. Because of our reversal as to Counts Two, Twelve, and Fourteen, his sentences on all counts are VACATED and the cause as to him is remanded for resentencing on all the remaining counts of conviction," the court stated in its opinion.

The decision may offer some sentence reduction for the three, although the brunt of Minor's sentence (132 months) is the result of his conviction under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, for honest services fraud, which the court did not overturn.

Still, Minor's attorney Hiram Eastland took comfort from the decision, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court is currently scrutinizing several unrelated cases that could upset Minor's conviction on honest services fraud.

"The Supreme Court just heard oral argument last week, and it's been widely reported that the court was unanimous in their concern that the honest services statute was overly broad and impossible for any public citizen or public official to understand as far as what constitutes legal or illegal conduct," Eastland told the Jackson Free Press.

Eastland added that prosecutors' use of honest services fraud in the Minor case could potentially incarcerate any politician who's ever taken a donation, since no prosecutor has to spell out what illegal service was delivered for the money. Members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (mostly businesses who benefit from anti-plaintiff judicial decision) could conceivably go to jail for funding the campaigns of anti-plaintiff judges.

"The vague honest services statute has created a legal twilight zone and nightmare that no citizen or public official would want to be faced with defending—whether they are Democrat or Republican," Eastland said.

Previous Comments

ID
154202
Comment

If the *5th Circuit" overturned this bribery conviction, you know it was bogus. This is what we've reported for years now: it made no sense to convict a man for bribery when bribery was not proved. It's kinda basic. Here's a link to JFP coverage of this case in recent years. It'll be intriguing to see what happens next in it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-11T15:57:30-06:00
ID
154203
Comment

Harper's Magazine blogger (and legal expert) Scott Horton blogs today on the Minor decision and goes into more detail about what Eastland told Adam above: Minor may soon go free. Why? The same week that the Fifth Circuit threw out the weak bribery conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that it may be about to rule the RICO honest services fraud statute (charges that still stand against Minor) unconstitutional. Horton writes: However, in Washington on Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a group of cases challenging the honest services fraud statute, and based on oral argument, it seems plain that a majority in the Court have concluded that the statute is unconstitutional. Led by Antonin Scalia, justices ridiculed the statute at the hearing, and expressed their strong disagreement with the construction that the Justice Department put on it. Thus, if the Supreme Court follows the course suggested at oral argument, the remaining counts against Minor, Teel, and Whitfield will also fall. As you can see there, justices who don't always agree (Scalia, Kennedy and Breyer) hate the statute. Read another report by AmLaw Litigation Daily on the shaky future of the "Honest Services" law. Like I said, intrigue ahead. Not surprising, but intrigue nevertheless.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-11T16:44:03-06:00
ID
154204
Comment

Cheers, by the way, to JFP reporter Adam Lynch on this story. It's another example of him not following the media herd in the state, and being right. The bribery conviction never made sense legally, and few others would dare point it out. Back during the trials on this, The Clarion-Ledger acted like a lapdog for the prosecution on it, regardless of the actual facts. Others in the state have turned it into a political witchhunt, cherrypicking the facts to fit their agenda. Adam reported straight ahead the whole time, and the 5th Circuit showed he was right.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-11T17:02:16-06:00
ID
154205
Comment

Larisa Alexandrovna is posting on the Minor news, too at Raw Story. Larisa has also done great work on the ongoing judicial scandals.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-11T18:41:15-06:00
ID
154217
Comment

Excellent point. The conviction never made sense, legally. But moving onto ethical and moral issues: http://nmisscommentor.com/2009/12/12/more-minor-is-it-wrong-vs-is-it-a-crime/#comments "You have here a lawyer attempting to avoid campaign finance and disclosure law (or bribery law) by disguising gifts to the judge as “loans” the lawyer “guaranteed” and then “paid.” If these loans were what the seemed on paper, and the judge was so close to the lawyer that the lawyer would have done him these favors, what the judge must do is recuse himself from any of the lawyer’s cases or, failing that, fully disclose the odd arrangement to any party in any case involving the lawyer. What was done instead was Minor and judges Teel and Whitfield rigged the process so that a judge and not a jury was going to decide the case, then forced through a decision that was to Minor’s huge benefit." I applaud Eastland. I feel nothing for Minor. Regardless if he was sought after for political, religious, gender or race reasons, it doesn't matter. At least not to me. He deserves to be in jail, nay, prison.

Author
jbreland
Date
2009-12-13T16:03:02-06:00
ID
154218
Comment

I'm not an attorney, can someone explain how getting three of fourteen counts overturned is a victory? Looking at some of the counts the court affirmed, it is still obvious these guys did very bad things. Is the best headline here, "5th Circuit Overturns PM Bribery Convictions?

Author
Hayes
Date
2009-12-13T18:27:59-06:00
ID
154222
Comment

It is very interesting how different media outlets have reported this. Minor's defenders write as if he's been cleared.

Author
kudzuking
Date
2009-12-14T09:12:39-06:00
ID
154223
Comment

I'm not an attorney, can someone explain how getting three of fourteen counts overturned is a victory? Looking at some of the counts the court affirmed, it is still obvious these guys did very bad things. Is the best headline here, "5th Circuit Overturns PM Bribery Convictions? Hayes, I'm also not an attorney, but I think the point is that the bribery portions of the conviction were overturned, leaving the RICO portions. That's why the headline reads as it does.

Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2009-12-14T09:30:24-06:00
ID
154224
Comment

Oh...ok...I now understand...

Author
Hayes
Date
2009-12-14T10:11:33-06:00
ID
154226
Comment

Hayes, I know you would prefer a Republican spin, considering your line of work, but our headline was the most straightforward that I saw on this: The *news* in this story, when you peel away the extremes, is that the government tried two times to convict Minor for bribery even without real proof, and the 5th Circuit overturned the U.S. government's efforts. That part is a clear victory for Minor; if the U.S. Supreme Court makes his RICO charges unconstitutional, then he goes free (Freeland's blog has some comments that say his RICO charges could stand, regardless, but I don't know). It is interesting to remember that the 5th Circuit knew that the high court was considering that when they focused in this case on the bribery charges. And even as some partisans try to spin this as the only news is that the court left the RICO charges intact, the truth is that journalism 101 is that the "new" thing is the "news." Funny how that works. All that said, I feel nothing for Minor, either, Jackson. I've never met him, and all signs point to some, shall we say, intriguing ethics. But there is something much bigger at play in this case, and that is what worries me most. It was a *political* prosecution for things that, as it's becoming more clear every years, were the way things were done for many on both sides of the political spectrum. Clearly, state law and enforcement (and lack of) has benefitted corrupt practices for years (forever) in our state. What makes no sense is to allow partisans on one side to lead a witch hunt if the laws aren't there to get a clean prosecution, even as the other side keeps doing the same sh!t, and their bought-and-paid-for media playing lapdog without calling out what is really going on, and the dangers this selective prosecution presents to our state and society. Put another way, had the federal government done this very thing, the way they did, against a big Republican donor, the headlines out there would be the exact opposite. Ours, however, would be the same it is above. Don't believe me? See our Melton coverage. I don't give a damn what party someone represents; truth is truth, and dangers to democracy are dangers to democracy. If you want partisan posturing, Hayes, go to another site.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T11:07:15-06:00
ID
154228
Comment

Thanks for the new link to nmisscommenter thread, Jackson. I had read the stuff they had up on this on Friday; that is a consistently good site, and I always learn something over there. I'm glad to see Tom posing the obvious question here: Immoral v. Illegal. People should stop and think hard about this. It is remarkable that many of the same people who want fewer laws on the books start yelping when someone they disagree with politically goes free because the laws aren't strong enough. Uh, lobby to change the laws. And I'll wager one guess: You will see little movement in this state for a while because corruption and immoral maneuvering benefits people on all sides of the spectrum. Another example would be how the U.S. Chamber tries to buy the election of many of our judges; that is immoral, too, but do you see the governor signing legislation to do something about it? However, it would behoove people in our state to start thinking more clearly on this point: If order to be convicted of something, you have to prove they violated an existing law. I believe, for instance, that what Robbie Bell did (or didn't do) when Heather Spencer was murdered is horrifying—but that does not mean that she violated a law *on the books* in Mississippi, which all credible legal authorities say she didn't. That doesn't make her actions moral, however, or less despicable. The same is true for Minor. We also see many of those instances in gun-related crime cases; people will yelp that the prosecutors let somebody off, and when you check it out, you realize that our dear Legislature will not give the police and prosecutors laws they can enforce in many cases. The lesson is: Identify laws that should be changed and strengthened and focus on that, using examples of people who get away with stuff due to weak laws. That's what we're working to do with domestic-abuse laws. It's so much more effective than not doing enough homework to know what the law is, and then trying to start witch hunts against the wrong people.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T11:40:45-06:00
ID
154237
Comment

Great article Adam and great follow-through, Ladd. The JFP must be given ALL the glory for this. You cracked this case from jump street and it is interesting that we had to spend all of that money and time for an appeal to the Fifth Circuit to overturn what you have said for years, "the bogus conviction." Your message was met with such thundering silence until now. I'm not for anyone being above the law; however, I am all for citizens to be charged properly and fairly and without evidence whose pieces are carved to fit the puzzle.

Author
justjess
Date
2009-12-14T13:30:06-06:00
ID
154253
Comment

As usual, you're only about 95% wrong on where I'm coming from Donna. It has nothing to do with what party I'm in or more importantly what I do or don't do for a living. With the exception of a little gig to Bill, my question was pretty much the same on other sites...is getting 3 of 14 counts overturned a victory for someone. It seems that people (not you or I) who actually know the law are saying it's not the victory some people are hyping it to be. As far as the U.S. Chamber chatter, you know there are more groups on the left trying to influence judicial races and such and if one is not willing to admit that there are more, it's at least as many. Additionally, I get more upset, not less when "my folks" do bad, stupid, and illegel things. Both sides of the spectrum have veered to far right and left and are beyond out of touch with folks in the middle. I could care less if someone believes Hannity or Beck are nut-jobs as long as they're willing to say the same about Maddow and Olbermann.

Author
Hayes
Date
2009-12-14T15:12:05-06:00
ID
154255
Comment

my question was pretty much the same on other sites...is getting 3 of 14 counts overturned a victory for someone. Hayes, maybe you posted here the same thing you posted elsewhere without actually *reading* our headline and story above? Take a look up above: the first time the word "victory" was used here was by ... wait for it ... you. As far as the U.S. Chamber chatter, you know there are more groups on the left trying to influence judicial races and such and if one is not willing to admit that there are more, it's at least as many. Of course, there are groups on the left and right trying to influence elections. That was my whole point. In fact, this particular conversation started because Minor was trying to influence judges his direction, so it's absurd to try to argue that I'm saying it only happens on the right! It sounds like you're confused over what I am pointing out. The point, of course, is that judicial corruption attempts were treated differently, during the Bush administration and his band of political U.S. attorneys seemingly willing to do anything to "get" Democrats. We have not seen the opposite response, though. The *response* has been one-sided, and that's the travesty. That and the fact that the judge didn't require the feds to prove guilt on the bribery charge. Bottom line: Nothing has been done about the efforts by the U.S. Chamber (and their big supporters, ahem) to buy judges in this state. I make no secret: I'm disgusted by the games that Minor played, and I am disgusted by people who pretend that their people don't play them, too. Are you willing to criticize the U.S. Chamber's judicial efforts in Mississippi, Hayes? And the lack of transparency? Just curious. It is despicable, by the way, to support a man of another party going to prison for many years for doing the same thing that members of one's own party do. That kind of hypocrisy is sickening. Not to say you feel that way -- I don't know -- but there are plenty of partisans in this state who do. I could care less if someone believes Hannity or Beck are nut-jobs as long as they're willing to say the same about Maddow and Olbermann. I'm not sure what that infotainment has to do with this conversation about the Bush administration's witch hunt, but just so you know, I call lefties "nut balls" and righties "wing nuts": separate but equal, as it were. I am glad to see that you're smart enough not to try to make the comparison between Coulter on one hand and Maddow on the other. That would have been offensive. Facts do matter. As for the others, I'll be honest with you: I don't have cable. I seldom see any of those people and have no interest in any of their efforts to raise the TV ratings. So that is an argument to have with someone who gives a damn about TV talk-heads. That would not be me. I'm more interested in justice and the truth, wherever those chips may fall. And good reporting. And all this because you misread a headline!

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-14T15:40:33-06:00
ID
154325
Comment

Just looking over these comments. More than a little misleading to say that Minor's "bribery conviction" was "overturned." The "federal program bribery" counts were overturned on the ground that the bribes didn't relate to any action by the judges in connection with a program that received federal funds - i.e., the court did *not* hold that bribery was not proven, it simply held that the bribery couldn't be prosecuted federally. The bribery could and should be prosecuted in state court - but, of course, it will not be because Jim Hood will not do it. The RICO counts that were affirmed were also bribery counts. The court held that these charges were proven by the government and that the jury was properly instructed. I find it incredible that anyone with even a modicum of common sense can take issue with this portion of the decision, much less portray Paul Minor a political prisoner. As is recounted in the opinion, Paul Minor guaranteed large loans for these judges, the judges clearly had no intention of ever paying the loans off, and Paul Minor eventually paid the loans off. These loans were never disclosed in campaign finance reports, as they should have been as a matter of state law. In fact, Minor and the judges not only failed to disclose these dealings, but actually went to great lengths to conceal them, involving or attempting to involve various intermediaries to funnel the money between Minor, the banks, and the judges. Minor then filed cases in these judges' courts, and the judges took suspicious steps to circumvent ordinary procedures to make sure that Minor's cases were assigned to them - rather than recusing themselves from Minor's cases, as they should have done as a matter of judicial ethics. Again, Minor's relationships with these judges were not disclosed to opposing litigants; instead, Minor engaged in ex parte conversations with the judges while the cases were pending. Ultimately - surprise, surprise - the judges ruled in favor of Minor or bullied the opposing party into an unfavorable settlement by making clear that he would rule for Minor. None of the above is seriously disputed. The only factual issue that is disputed is whether bribery can be inferred from these facts. I think any sane person would say yes, particularly given Minor's and the judges' efforts to conceal their dealings and failure to disclose them to opposing parties or in campaign finance reports. As for the jury instructions, Minor took issue with the fact that the jury was instructed that it could convict him if it found that he guaranteed and paid off the loans in exchange for *some* favorable ruling in the future - i.e., the jury was told that it could convict if Minor and the judge agreed that the judge would do him *a* favor, even if, at the time the loans were made or paid off, the precise favor was not identified. Minor's position, in other words, is that he is "innocent" as long as he merely bribes judges to do undefined future favors for him. The 5th Circuit, correctly in my view, held that that is not the law. Other things that are laughable in the Ladd comments: referring to Scott Horton as a "legal expert"; comparing Minor's and the judges' secretive dealings and crimes to lawful, openly disclosed campaign contributions by the Chamber of Commerce; citing criticism of Frank Melton as evidence of a lack of bias - criticizing a vigilante lunatic does not prove impartiality (I bet you've criticized Charlie Rangel and William Jefferson, too, haven't you? Good for you.).

Author
williemcgee
Date
2009-12-16T12:23:37-06:00
ID
154357
Comment

Willie, I just responding to similar comments by you on this thread, and there's no reason to repeat them. You are repeating the same talking points as other partisans on this issue on various threads, and there is no reason to say the same thing over and over again. I took particular interested in your "inferred" statement over there as well. So take a peek. As for your attack on me in your last paragraph, yawn. If you haven't seen our criticism of Ronnie Musgrove, Mitch Tyner/Democratic party silliness, the campaigns of John Arthur Eaves and the gay-baiting of Jamie Franks, and so on, you're not paying attention or are intentionally ignoring our actual anti-partisan track record. I've made so many Democrats in this state mad that you can't believe it. Too many thought we would automatically support them no matter what they do, and that just ain't how we roll. You gotta earn it over here. And you can downplay the potential difficulty of our coverage of Frank Melton all you want, but we were in dangerous territory when we came out critical him early in his campaign, and with many Democrats. Granted, he had a lot of Democratic and Republican support, black and white, and we risked losing advertisers over the way we covered him because our mission is to tell the truth, no matter where those chips fall. We don't make our editorial decisions lightly, and we don't base them on anyone's party, race, etc. We base them on the truth as we can find it and report it, even if we're the only one who will dare put it out there -- from the political prosecution of Minor/Diaz to the Frank Melton fiasco to the Two Lakes madness. And, yes, we get told off by a handful of people p!ssed off that we dare rock the boat, but it's our very willingness to tell the truth no matter what that has earned us the trust of our community and of people of all parties (other then closed-minded partisans who only want their ideas out there regardless of truth; we don't give a whit about people like that on either side. Ewww.) So your protestations ring hollow. We warned everyone about these bribery changes; the 5th Circuit backed us up. Now, why don't we all get busy doing something about the corrupt judicial system in out state and making it harder for these kinds of nightmares to occur? That's the real test of whether somebody means their disgust over this, or whether it's just bald partisanship. Ante up on supporting systemic change. Otherwise, I'm not caring much. Got too much to do.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-12-17T11:13:16-06:00

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