According to canon two of the US Code of Conduct for United States Judges, “A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.”
It’s unknown whether Owen was aware of allegations Rove had been involved in the prosecutions of Minor, Diaz, Whitfield and Teel. However, the public record and legal filings both either mention Rove by name or reference the White House’s alleged involvement in political prosecutions in general terms.
For example, in a letter (pdf) from Paul Minor to the US House Judiciary Committee, dated Oct. 22, 2007, Minor expresses his belief that Rove was directly involved in his prosecution.
Excerpt from Minor’s letter linked in the story.
My campaign contributions to Ronnie Musgrove and the fact that the government had
indicted me for “bribing” judges was the subject of television commercials and full page
full color ads which were widely distributed on behalf of Republican candidate Haley
Barbour in the 2003 gubernatorial campaign. (Index 52). In November of 2003, Barbour
was elected governor, and early in 2004, one of his first acts as governor was to call a
special session of the Mississippi legislature which passed legislation effectively wiping
out mass tort litigation and capping noneconomic and punitive damages in almost all tort
As a result of the 2003 indictment, Justice Diaz was suspended from the Mississippi
Supreme Court while his federal charges were pending, leaving that Court with a 6-2 probusiness
majority. The disappearance of trial lawyer money seriously crippled the
Mississippi Democratic Party. In the 2003-2004 election cycle, the Mississippi
Democratic Party raised only $450,000; whereas, the Republican State Party raised $4
In early 2005, in a trial lasting three months, Justice Diaz was acquitted of all charges. I
was also acquitted on the six charges involving Justice Diaz. The jury failed to reach a
verdict on other charges against me and against the other two judges. The indictment’s
allegations that I guaranteed a loan to Justice Diaz in order to gain an unfair advantage
from him were ludicrous from the outset. As the government was well aware, Justice
Diaz recused himself from every case handled by my firm. The only case which Justice
Diaz sat on which even remotely involved me was one involving my father who had been
sued for libel in his capacity as a journalist by a racist ex-Highway patrolman who had
been paid a half-million dollars by Republic operatives to investigate Bill Clinton in the
now discredited Whitewater investigation. I did not represent my father. The Mississippi
Supreme Court in an 8-0 opinion, joined in by Diaz, affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of
that case. See, Roger Shuler, “Mississippi Churning, Part IX,” Legal Schnauzer, September
26, 2007 (Index 22).
As soon as the verdict came down exonerating Justice Diaz, Lampton unsealed a new
indictment against Diaz and his wife for tax evasion. Rather than run the risk of having
both her husband and herself in jail thereby depriving their children of both parents, Mrs.
Diaz pled guilty to tax evasion in return for a sentence of probation. In 2006, Justice Diaz
was acquitted of tax evasion and finally was able to return to the Mississippi Supreme
Court. By indicting Justice Diaz on frivolous charges, the Chamber of Commerce was
able to accomplish what it had not been able to do through the electoral process–a duly
elected Supreme Court Justice was effectively unable to sit on the Court for three years
while those charges were pending against him. Scott Horton in Harper’s suggests that the
purpose of prosecuting Diaz was to keep him off the bench “shifting the Mississippi
Court’s partisan balance. Seen this way, what the Justice Department did was an assault
on the political franchise of Mississippi voters and an attack on the State’s Constitution,
all pursued for partisan political purposes.” Scott Horton, Harper’s Magazine, “A Minor
Injustice: Why Paul Minor?” October 5, 2007 (Index 5).
In the spring of 2007, the other two judges and I were retried. This time all three of us
were convicted. I was sentenced to serve 11 years and to pay fines and restitution in
excess of 4.25 million dollars. The fines, incidentally, were 15 times what the federal
sentencing guidelines called for.
It is important to understand that in Mississippi at the time I made the loan guarantees to
the judges, it was not against the law in Mississippi for lawyers to do so. Moreover, it
was common practice for attorneys to make loan guarantees to judges and to appear
before judges to whom they had made political contributions. In fact, one such attorney
who did so was Richard “Dicky” Scruggs, who is the brother in law of Republican Senator
Trent Lott, who at the time was the Senate Majority leader in Congress. Interestingly,
Lampton hired Trent Lott’s Assistant Chief of staff as his own chief of staff—thereby giving
Lott, and possibly the White House, access to the investigation and prosecution.