Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz outlined allegations of political persecution last week at a Washington, D.C., forum. The Sarah McClendon Group, a government and media watchdog association, held a forum on alleged selective prosecutions by the U.S. Department of Justice during the Bush administration. Speakers said that the U.S. Department of Justice, under former President George Bush, targeted Democratic politicians and Democratic fundraisers with indictments and media-saturated investigations with the help of conservative-appointed judgesin hopes of swinging elections toward Republicans.
Diaz recounted for the group his own two federal trials, one for mail fraud and a follow-up trial for tax evasion, both of which drew a "not guilty" decision from jurors. Wealthy Mississippi attorney Paul Minor contributed heavily to Diaz's campaign. Diaz has long said that U.S. Attorney Dunnica Lampton indicted him in hopes of landing a guilty verdict against Minor.
"They were hoping they could show campaign contributions and my decisions on Minor's case and convict us. The one flaw from Lampton was that he didn't research my record before bringing the indictment," Diaz told the crowd. "I had never voted on Minor's cases on the Supreme Court. That's why I stand before you today."
Minor was not so lucky. Lampton failed to convict Minor, Diaz, and Mississippi lower court judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel in a 2006 trial, which ended in a mistrial. But U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, a Reagan appointee, changed jury instructions in the 2007 retrial, ruling out the prosecution's earlier requirement to show direct proof of bribery. The jury, as a result of Wingate's new instructions, was free to base a guilty plea upon whether or not other judges had merely received campaign donations from Minor.
Diaz was found not guilty in 2006, rather than being the subject of a mistrial like his fellow defendants, and was not subject to a retrial and Wingate's new jury instructions.
The former justice drew comparisons between Minor's case and the trial of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, which federal prosecutors botched after failing to disclose so-called Brady materialevidence that could aid criminal defendants at trial. The lead prosecutor in the Stevens case, Paul Welch, is currently under criminal investigation for allegations of withholding evidence beneficial to Stevens.
Diaz said prosecutors uncovered a number of witnesses who could have benefitted the defense's cases, but never revealed the information, including interviews with Minor's secretary Janet Miller, and attorneys Mark Lumpkin and Jim Reeves, who both told investigators that they had personally handled the cases at the center of the corruption charges, and that Minor had nothing to do with them.
"They gave exculpatory evidence to the DOJ, which was never turned over to us," Diaz said, adding that Welch was also the lead Justice Department attorney in Minor's case.
Diaz, who is suing Lampton and his cousin Leslie Lampton for allegedly sharing his private tax records, pointed out that the media and Congress made a lot of noise over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2007. However, Diaz said, nobody is really giving attention to the motives of the rest of the attorneys, like Lampton, who were not fired.
"We know prosecutors were fired for political reasons," Diaz said. "The more important question is if there were those who were fired because they did not bring prosecutions, then were there prosecutors who were not fired because they did bring prosecutions. That is what has not been looked at."
Lampton had actually been on an early list of U.S. attorneys under consideration by the Justice Department for firing but, coincidentally or not, found his job intact after pushing the Minor and Diaz cases.
Forum speaker Cliff Arnebeck, the legal affairs committee chairman of Common Cause Ohio, said the case went further than the witch-hunting of Democrats. He said that the Republican-led DOJ also called off numerous legitimate federal investigations against Republican operatives and politicians.
Arnebeck referenced letters in 2002 written to the FBI and IRS officials, alleging illegal funding methods of the Ohio Republican Party. The DOJ opened an investigation, but then closed down the investigation in 2004, without giving good reason.
"The other side of the coin is that the DOJ shut down investigations that included members of the Republican Party. The IRS had the case in the bag, and the justice department, for political reasons, shut it down," Arnebeck said.
A report by the Justice Department Inspector General in October 2008 found that the process used to fire the nine U.S. attorneys "raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecution decisions."
Lampton's attorney Dennis L. Horn did not immediately return calls.
Other forum speakers included Judiciary Committee Counsel Elliot Minceberg, substituting for Congressional Justice Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.; Harper's Magazine reporter Scott Horton; and a host of personalities either directly involved with alleged political investigations or with government operatives and watchdogs who viewed the process from a distance.
If he doesn't like the legal system why'd he become a Judge?
I've read this twice: where does it say up there that he doesn't like the legal system?
- Lady Havoc
I saw part of the forum on CSPAN this past weekend. It was very eye opening and scary to think our justice system could be hijacked so easily -- and not just that, that innocent, hard working, good people could be targeted, defamed, and wrongly prosecuted for political reasons. Isn't that what happens in newly formed, fragile, and corrupt democracies? This was a wake up call