Who's Minding the Bench in Mississippi?

Indicted Diaz pleads 'absolutely not guilty'

By Jerry Mitchell
The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi, August 7, 2003

“State Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. told a federal magistrate judge Wednesday that he is "absolutely not guilty" of fraud and bribery charges.

Four others charged with bribery and fraud echoed that plea of innocence, including nationally prominent trial lawyer Paul Minor, also charged with racketeering, who told U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Sumner that he is "not guilty to all counts." Former Gulf Coast judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel also pleaded innocent as did Diaz's ex-wife, Jennifer Diaz.

A July 25 federal indictment alleges the five took part in a scheme to deprive citizens of honest judicial services. It accuses the judges of giving Minor an unfair advantage after he paid off or guaranteed campaign-related loans, made cash payments and in one case paid a judge's legal expenses. In return, the judges allegedly ruled in favor of Minor's clients.

The indictment against Diaz alleges Minor steered up to $199,000 from trial lawyers into the 2000 campaign for Diaz.

If convicted, Minor faces up to 95 years in prison and $3.25 million in fines; Diaz and his ex-wife, 25 years in prison and $1 million in fines; Whitfield, 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines; and Teel, 20 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

FBI officials have said the corruption investigation is continuing. . .”


Note:  In 2005, a jury cleared Justice Diaz of all bribery charges, while his ex-wife later pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to two years' probation.  Attorney Paul Minor and Judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel were convicted of bribery in 2007 and face lengthy prison sentences.

As with the Bodenheimer case, the Minor case teaches that the business and political relationships of judges must be scrutinized to determine whether there could be a conflict of interest between a judge and the litigant or attorney who comes before him or her.  It also suggests that the authority to decide questions of judicial impropriety should be removed from judges, who are usually self-serving, and placed in the hands of a truly independent body.

  • Jerry Mitchell, "Indicted Diaz pleads 'absolutely not guilty'," The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., August 7, 2003 http://www.clarionledger.com/news/0308/07/m01.html, accessed 08/15/03.

  • Adam Liptak, "Not From a Grisham Novel, But One for the Casebook," New York Times, March 15, 2004, http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F60F15FB345A0C768DDDAA0894DC404482#, accessed 04/04/07.

  • Julie Goodman, "Diaz acquittal fuels election questions," The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., April 29, 2006 http://www.clarionledger.com/..., accessed 04/04/07.

  • Lora Hines, "Justice's ex-wife sentenced in tax evasion'," The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., June 28, 2007 http://www.clarionledger.com/..., accessed 04/04/07.

  • Holbrook Mohr, "Famed Litigator, Two Judges Convicted of Bribery," New York Lawyer, April 2, 2007, http://www.nylawyer.com/display.php/file=/news/07/04/040207p, accessed 04/03/07.

  • Holbrook Mohr, "High-Flying Lawyer and Two Judges He Bribed Are Headed to Prison," New York Lawyer, September 10, 2007, http://www.nylawyer.com/display.php/file=/news/07/09/091007g, accessed 09/10/07.

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