The Fifth Circuit has overturned (PDF) that portion of the convictions of Mississippi trial lawyer Paul Minor and two judges based on what is known as federal program bribery, while upholding the trio’s convictions for mail fraud and racketeering based on violations of state bribery law. The latter set of convictions, however, could be undermined should the U.S. Supreme Court strike down as unconstitutional the concept of “honest services” fraud. [ABA Journal, Freeland and more and yet more, Y'AllPolitics; our earlier, extensive Minor coverage]
Harper’s commentator Scott Horton and New York Times editorial commentator Adam Cohen have long defended Minor as the target of a supposed political prosecution premised on “vague allegations”, contending (to quote Cohen) that his crime “does not look much like a crime at all” and is based on things that “everyone” does in the Mississippi legal system. But the Fifth Circuit sharply rebukes this view of the case, laying out in some detail (quoting the ABA Journal) the nature of the corruption involved:
Structured as a short-term “balloon” loan that had to be renewed every six months, after the accumulated interest was paid, “the arrangement allowed Minor to keep Whitfield on a string while Minor held the bank at bay,” states the 68-page opinion, explaining the government’s theory of the case concerning this one judge. Minor directly or indirectly made the vast majority of the payments on the $140,000 in loans to Whitfield, the opinion notes, and little or none of the money apparently was spent on Whitfield’s judicial campaign.
Minor also repaid the $25,000 loan he arranged for Teel, which was deposited into the judge’s campaign account. However, neither judge reported the loans as required on campaign disclosure forms, the opinion states.
Each judge subsequently made rulings in a case that allegedly may have been influenced by their financial relationship with Minor. However, the legally required connection between federal funds the judges received [emphasis added] and their rulings was not established, the 5th Circuit found.
There are indeed plenty of legitimate questions — which hardly raised their heads for the first time in this case — about the armory of powers that federal prosecutors have developed over many years in their efforts to go after state-level corruption. But that this was an episode of grotesque corruption, and that Minor’s misconduct went far beyond anything remotely defensible as politics as usual, should by this point be apparent even to Harper’s and the Times.