Minor News: Judges are skeptical of government’s argument

Questions from the judges showed skepticism of the government’s case, says attorney and Columbia University Professor Scott Horton.

“It’s always problematic assessing what’s in the mind of a judge based on the questions he asks,” Horton wrote in an email. “But in this case, it’s clear that Judge Garwood has some real problems with the prosecutions case. He seems to think the theories are stretched pretty thin and he is obviously troubled by the government’s claims that campaign donations to a judge can simply be counted as bribe payments.”

“If the government applied this rule uniformly,” Horton continued, “hundreds of judges would be prosecuted all across the country. And the Bush Justice Department applied this ‘rule’ only against Democrats, even though their Republican opponents took substantially larger sums of money from agents for litigants before them and were never investigated. If I were a government prosecutor sitting in the room, I would have walked out with a ill feeling. But we have to keep in mind that Garwood has a pretty strong trackrecord of upholding convictions, so the questions were a bit surprising.”

In one particularly heated exchange, Judge Garwood corrected the government attorney, Elizabeth Collery, in relation to a Supreme Court ruling:

JUDGE GARWOOD: Doesn’t it say though in any action, in any case now or which might thereafter be pending?

MS. COLLERY: That’s right. The instruction allows the jury to convict if they believe 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. And that’s consistent with how bribery law has always been understood.

JUDGE GARWOOD: Is that not consistent with what the Supreme Court said in the agriculture department case.

MS. COLLERY: That’s a gratuity case.

JUDGE GARWOOD: No. That’s section 2 one — what is it? 210?

MS. COLLERY: 201.

JUDGE GARWOOD: Which covers both gratuity and bribery and is exactly the same language in the gratuity and in the bribery statutes part of that statute. As far as what is designed to be influenced. It says an action. The words exactly the same and the Supreme Court said an action. Means a particular action, not just any action that might arise.

Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver E. Diaz Jr., who was also tried twice — and acquitted twice — as part of the same government case against Minor and Judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield, was pleased with today’s hearing.

“The judges were not buying the government’s argument,” he said. “Things could not have gone better for Paul [Minor].”

The Raw Story 4/2/9