Could Minor Case Weakness Help Delaughter? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Could Minor Case Weakness Help Delaughter?


Attorneys for Paul Minor, above, are moving forward to appeal his honest services fraud convictions.

A change in federal court opinion could soon affect some media-saturated state trials, including the corruption trial of Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter and the ongoing appeal of Mississippi attorney Paul Minor. Court opinion could upend prosecutors' liberal use of so-called "honest-services" fraud and the RICO statute to indict and convict fundraisers and political figures during the years of the Bush administration.

The swaying of court views was obvious last week during a 30-minute 5th Circuit Court hearing regarding the U.S. Department of Justice's 2007 conviction of Minor.

A federal jury convicted Minor of guaranteeing campaign loans for some state judges, without prosecutors having to reveal specific examples of what the loan guarantees allegedly bought Minor. In fact, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate allowed the prosecution to remove the requirement of proof of any bribe with which Minor had allegedly influenced the judges.

Wingate also helped prosecutors by ruling that the jury did not have to consider whether the "influenced" judges had rendered irregular or illogical decisions as a result. Minor is serving an 11-year sentence.

Last week, however, panel Judge Will Garwood revealed a smattering of uncertainty regarding the jury instructions, and asked U.S. Department of Justice attorney Elizabeth Collery to outline the specific deal that Minor had made with any of the judges. Collery could make no specification.

"The instruction allowed the jury to convict if they believed that when Minor gave the bribes he didn't have a specific case in mind, a pending case. The bribes could be in connection with some future proceeding," she said.

Judge Catharina Haynes also seemed dubious: "All right. But you agree that there has to be some kind of agreement, OK; I'm going to give you money, and you're going to rule in my favor on X in some way," Haynes said. "What is your contention of what that agreement was? Because neither of these two cases (used to convict the defendants) that we have been presented were pending in front of those judges at that time as I understand it ╔ And one of them wasn't even a judge yet."

"The agreement," Collery affirmed, "was you will take this money and in some future case you will rule dishonestly for me."

Former state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, who sat in on the hearing, told the Jackson Free Press that the panel asked questions that "Wingate should've asked before this was ever allowed to go to trial."

Jackson attorney Hiram Eastland, who helped write the mail fraud statute that the DOJ used to convict Minor, is now representing Minor on his appeal. Eastland said he had never expected the new corruption law, created in 1988, to be wielded so loosely.

"The statute needs reining in. We created a monster," Eastland said. "The way the prosecutors frame the law, it could allow a prosecutor to accuse a public official and a fundraiser of engaging in bribery based on nothing more than a campaign contribution, without any need of proof."

Defense attorneys for DeLaughter are using many of the same arguments in their case. DeLaughter's attorneys filed a March 26 motion to dismiss four of the five counts against DeLaughter, who allegedly rendered favorable decisions for convicted Mississippi Attorney Dickie Scruggs in return for consideration for a federal judicial appointment.

Like Minor, DeLaughter's lawyers argue that prosecutors are coming up short in revealing the actual exchange of services that is the seat of a corruption case.

Count 1 of the federal indictment against DeLaughter alleges Scruggs, working through Booneville attorney Joey Langston, paid former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters $1 million to "corruptly influenc(e)" DeLaughter. However, DeLaughter makes the case that even prosecutors haven't claimed that Peters passed any of that money along to DeLaughter, or that he even knew of the Langston/Peters transaction. The second item of valuečallegedly Scruggs' offer to ask his brother-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott to consider DeLaughter for a federal seatčnever got further than Lott's "courtesy call" to the judge.

"In fact, Senator Lott did nothing to advance ╔ DeLaughter's aspiration to become a federal judge," wrote DeLaughter's attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin, adding that Lott made the call in accordance with his usual practice after DeLaughter himself sent letters of interest to Lott regarding the position.

"If what Judge DeLaughter allegedly did is a federal crime, then any judge who receives an ex parte communication from an attorney in a case before him and then receives, for example, an endorsement for election or a campaign contribution from that attorney subjects himself to federal prosecution," Durkin wrote in the motion.

Eastland said he saw the parallels between the Minor and DeLaughter cases.

"I understand that DeLaughter has already raised the argument that there wasn't any quid pro quo proof, which he is certainly entitled to raise under this law," he said. "If I was Mr. DeLaughter's lawyers, I would certainly be looking at (the holes in) this law."

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Wow. Today (May 10), Jerry Mitchell published a version of the story that the JFP's Adam Lynch did a month and three days ago. (Above.) Where did he get the idea for this story!?! Adam's April 7 story starts: A change in federal court opinion could soon affect some media-saturated state trials, including the corruption trial of Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter and the ongoing appeal of Mississippi attorney Paul Minor. Mitchell's May 10 story starts: If a federal appeals court reverses the convictions of former lawyer Paul Minor and others, it could help Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter fight charges he participated in a bribery scheme with former lawyer Dickie Scruggs. Go read both stories to see just how much Clarion-Ledger ass Adam is kicking these days.


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