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Friday, October 12, 2007

Criminal Prosecutions and Elections

Part of me doesn't want to believe that this is true. I don't want to believe that people were prosecuted on trumped up charges just to win elections, but there are too many "coincidences" that raise red flags. Somehow, despite all the attempts to thwart investigation, we need to doggedly pursue this until we get to the bottom of it all. And if it is true - as looks likely given the evidence - those responsible need to be held accountable and face the rule of law they profess to hold so dear:

The United States Attorneys Scandal Comes to Mississippi, by Adam Cohen, Editorial, NY Times: Paul Minor is ... 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... 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.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold hearings shortly on whether the Justice Department engaged in selective prosecution in two other cases: when it went after Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who is 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. ... The ... prosecutions came from the politicized Bush Justice Department.

 

Mississippi’s loose campaign finance laws allow lawyers and companies to contribute heavily to the judges they appear before. That is terrible for justice, since the courts are teeming with perfectly legal conflicts of interest. It also creates an ideal climate for partisan selective prosecution. Since everyone is making contributions and nurturing friendships that look questionable, a prosecutor can haul any lawyer and judge he doesn’t like before a grand jury and charge corruption.

The Justice Department indicted Justice Diaz and Mr. Minor on an array of unconvincing bribery and fraud charges. Justice Diaz was acquitted of all of them. The federal prosecutors then brought tax evasion charges against him. Justice Diaz was acquitted again and still sits on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Mr. Minor was not as lucky. He beat many of the charges in the first trial, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on others. Federal prosecutors went after him again, and this time Mr. Minor was convicted on vague allegations of trying to get “an unfair advantage” from judges — the very thing Mississippi’s lax campaign finance laws are set up to allow.

The case fits a familiar pattern. The corruption Mr. Minor was charged with was disturbingly vague... 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.”

There also appears to have been pro-Republican favoritism. Mr. Minor’s lawyers say prosecutors were not interested in going after similar activity by trial lawyers who contributed to Republicans. Time magazine recently reported that in Alabama, one of the main witnesses against Mr. Siegelman also told prosecutors of possible corruption involving Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, but they did not pursue it.

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.

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.

    Posted by on Friday, October 12, 2007 at 12:24 AM in Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (37)

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