Friday, August 22, 2003

Ladies and gentlemen, it's official. There is a vast conspiracy afoot against the Mississippi Supreme Court, according to Napoleon, err, that is, Chief Justice Edwin Pittman. I can assure you that it's not my conspiracy. Maybe it's the one-armed man.

I note that The Ole Miss Conservative (Is this redundant? Can anyone tell me?) is not covering the judicial scandal. Oh well.

In news of the obvious, candidates for office in this year's elections are reportedly watching the case of the New Jackson Five with care. In hopes, I imagine, that they soon won't be there.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court dumb, or merely ignorant?

In this transcript from an interview on Hannity and Colmes, he states that the blind goddess of justice is Venus. Venus is the Roman goddess of love, traditionally tied to the Greek goddess Aphrodite; the blind goddess of justice is either Dike, the daughter of Themis and Zeus, or Justitia, the Roman "spirit" of justice. He then uses this to justify his monument in a response to a question from Colmes about the imminence of God:

MOORE: "That's right. And if he's there everywhere and if it's a symbol, then the government doesn't have the right to remove a symbol.

You see, what it is, Alan, is the same thing that's going on down at the federal courthouse. They put a symbol of Venus, the goddess of justiceā€¦ the Greek goddess of justice in front of the courthouse and they haven't moved their Greek goddess. And that's not what our justice system is founded upon. Our justice system is founded upon the laws of God. If you look at the Declaration, you see it very plainly in the first sentence."

The goddess of love is plainly not the goddess of justice. Justice Roy Moore cannot possibly expect us to believe that the sterile, echoing fragments of a truly dead religion that has been entirely secularized by over 1600 years of Western culture is in any way equally symbolic to the very potent symbolism of a vibrant, world-spanning religion like Christianity. I suppose one must admire his ideological consistency; monomania is after all very attractive in our value-neutral world that has elevated hypocrisy to the abiding sin of humanity. But the man is dead wrong, first in comparing Christianity to Roman and Greek paganism in its symbolic value, and second in refusing to follow the orders of the federal court.

Moore also shows a devastating misunderstanding about Roman religion. Roman religion had several unique features: first, it freely imported local gods and demi-gods into the core religion; second, it retained an animistic ancestor worship ala Shintoism; third, it tended to include gods that are more forces rather than personal (justice, wealth, Rome herself, etc.). Romans shied away from the more Oriental and Greek approaches of inveting gods with human features until the Emperor cults began to emerge. Justice, wealth, Rome, and other forces were to be invoked and propitiated, but they were not understood to be gods like Zeus, Ares, etc., with human needs and desires; rather, they were animating spirits.

Regardless, this is just another sign of Moore's erroneous understanding of reality, not to mention an obvious measure of his self-delusion. He reminds me of Lt. Kendrick in A Few Good Men, who recognizes no authority besides his commanding officer and the Lord. Someone needs to remind Moore that he took an oath to obey the law, not betray it.
Well, well, well. The heat has been turned up on Edwin Pittman and the Supremes: apparently there is a witness who says the Supremes were shredding documents. This is amusing. For starters, the clerks work on the second floor of the building, far away from their bosses. So if anyone was shredding it was the justices and their secretaries. And since we all know that the clerks are the ones doing the real work (researching and writing, anyway), you have to wonder how much of that info is case related and how much of it is campaign related.

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the Supremes will decide whether Diaz gets to see the documents that the grand jury reviewed before indicting him. The article also mentions Judge Jim Thomas of the Court of Appeals, who was along with Diaz one of the original judges on the Court of Appeals. I can say without reservation that Judge Thomas is a fine man and a good jurist, and the fact that his recommendation assisted in me getting my job does not influence my opinion of him at all.

It was my experience while working at the Court of Appeals that the judges there took their jobs quite seriously, were diligent in their duties, and fundamentally good people. It was my great privilege to begin my legal career there, and I think that any allegation even hinting at the merest appearance of impropriety is dubious at best, and perniciously false at worst. It should be noted that there is no implication of anything improper connected to Judge Thomas. Judge Thomas received a loan from Minor in the 1994 election that he paid back in full; those loans were perfectly legal then.

Here is my opinion on this: Judge Jim Thomas is not for sale, and never has been, and his connection with this investigation is pure coincidence. It is interesting to note that the request for 1999 W-2 forms applies to both the Supremes and the Court of Appeals. More indictments may be coming. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The legendary Walter Olson of Overlawyered has linked to my summary. Overlawyered is a daily stop of mine; as a defense attorney in Mississippi, it's good to know the enemy, and Walter has a fine eye for those legal shenanigans that never make the front pages.

Thank you, Walter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Much thanks and respect to Robbin Stewart, atty @ law, for the kind link. Robbin specializes in voting rights advocacy. Here's the blog: http://ballots.blogspot.com .
Read the second of these two editorials from the Clarion Ledger. It highlights the legal campaign loan to Chief Justice Pittman, and compares it to the euqlly legal loans and contributions that are common to electing Mississippi Highway Transportation Commissioners. Both often come from those groups that are overseen by the persons elected. Gasp.

Note the throw away line at the end. I quote it for emphasis: "And, frankly, these posts should be appointed." Mmm. Great idea. Appointed how? By whom? How would we ensure that those persons appointing the judges aren't captives of special interests? The question comes down to the old dilemma: quis custodies custodet?

Next, those rabble rousers at the Sun Herald are poking at Pittman, and manage to get a dig in on Scruggs as well. Who looks worse, Dickie Scruggs complaining about how the Sun Herald is involved in yellow journalism, or the Sun Herald, a paper that happily prints these accusations by Dickie? Stan Tiner (the Sun Herald's publisher) is laughing all the way to the bank. Go Stan!

Monday, August 18, 2003

Okay, here goes for my summary:

On July 25th, 2003, five citizens of Mississippi were indicted by a federal grand jury on sixteen counts. Here is the breakdown of the people and their alleged crimes:

Paul S. Minor, charged with bribery, fraud, and racketeering, and a conspiracy to deprive the citizens of the state of Mississippi of a fair judiciary. He loaned money and guaranteed loans to: John H. Whitfield, at the time a circuit judge; Oliver and Jennifer Diaz, when Oliver Diaz was sitting on the Court of Appeals and Jennifer Diaz was struggling to maintain her business; Walter W. "Wes" Teel, at the time a chancery judge.

The full indictments can be read here.

These are the five indicted conspirators:

Paul S. Minor is one of the most successful of Mississippi trial lawyers. He has made a mint off of tobacco and asbestos lawsuits. His father is famed Mississippi journalist Bill Minor. Paul Minor was sanctioned earlier this year when he personally went into a K-Mart and raided the cash registers to collect on a judgment.

Oliver Diaz was one of the youngest judges to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court. He was a member of the Mississippi Court of Appeals, and before that a rising star in the Mississippi Republican party. A smart, personable, and handsome man in his forties, Diaz has shown a tendency to be more and more plaintiff oriented since he hit the bench.

Jennifer Diaz was married to Oliver Diaz from 1988 to 2002. She runs a bed and breakfast in Biloxi, Mississippi, which has recently been effectively put out of business by the city council in what essentially amounts to a bill of attainder against her business. Her bed and breakfast, Green Oaks, LLC, is on sale for 3.5 million dollars.

John H. Whitfield was among the more forgettable of Mississippi's allegedly corrupt judges. His notoriety came from awarding big judgments to Paul Minor.

Wes Teel was among the most notorious of Mississippi's allegedly corrupt judges. He was, by all reports (including the indictment), cheaply bought.

Representing these stellar exemplars of the Mississippi legal community are the following lawyers: Brad Pigott and Robert McDuff are defending Oliver Diaz; Jim Neal and Abbe Lowell are representing Minor; Albert Necaise is representing Wes Teel; Michael Crosby is representing John Whitfield; and Jim Kitchens is representing Jennifer Diaz.

I've pointed to this article before, but Jerry Mitchell dissects the indictment and pulls out the meat.

The Clarion Ledger reports on the Dickie Scruggs funded loans.

The Clarion Ledger also offers this report concerning our wonderful chief justice, Napoleon himself, Ed Pittman. Pittman is hated and feared by many, and despised by even more. Several sources report that Pittman keeps an enemies file much like Richard M. Nixon did. Pittman has lately been pushing through several rules changes that he has publicly admitted are to form his legacy. Some of these rules, including the rule on cameras in the courtroom (which was officially and actually drafted by Justice Waller's chambers, at Pittman's instigation), are poorly drafted, filled with loopholes, and otherwise make no sense. Pittman has become a Warren Burger figure, and the Court's collegiality has essentially disintegrated under him, with associate justices taking shots at Pittman in public fora, and the Chief responding equally publicly.

Finally, those of you who saw The Insider by Michael Mann may recall two other Mississippi figures involved in the tobacco litigation: Dickie Scruggs and Mike Moore, attorney general for the Magnolia State. Where are they in all this?

Well, Dickie Scruggs very publicly testified before the federal grand jury that was investigating this matter. Mike Moore, his good friend, picked Dickie up from the Jackson airport (where Dickie flew in on his private plane) and drove Dickie to the Eastland Court House in Jackson just in time for Dickie to testify. Mike Moore said that he routinely assists federal investigations by making sure that witnesses get to the courthouse on time. He said this through the window of his 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee while wearing one of his many 2500 dollar suits.

Dickie has repeatedly said that he is not a subject of the investigation, even though he has been identified as intermediary #2 in the indictment. Smart money says that Dickie pulled an Ollie North, and testified on a grant of transactional immunity. Transactional immunity means that whatever you testify about, you are immune from. I wouldn't be surprised if he admitted to cheating on the spelling bee back in the fifth grade.

There's the summary, filled with both fact and vitriol. I'll be keeping you posted, fair readers.

And thanks to Professor Eugene Volokh for suggesting I summarize. I hope this summary is up to snuff.