Federal judge declines to dismiss charges against coast attorney, others

Published 6:27 pm Friday, June 30, 2006

A federal judge on Thursday declined to dismiss a dozen bribery-related charges against Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor and two former state trial court judges.

Minor and former judges West Teel and John Whitfield are awaiting a second trial in the high-profile judicial bribery case.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate on Thursday refused to dismiss the charges and is taking other issues under advisement.

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Minor’s attorney, Brad Pigott, urged Wingate to dismiss 12 of 14 counts of the indictment, saying the charges fail to outline a breach or deprivation of duty as required by law.

“The government simply does not have the right to bring such a charge,” Pigott said.

Pigott said the indictment focuses more on Minor developing and advantageous relationship with the judges than with actual wrongdoing.

Mike Ferrara, an attorney with the Justice Department, said jurors should decide the relevance of the charges.

“It’s a jury question, quite frankly,” he said.

Wingate said the defense made similar arguments before the first trail.

“I’ve already dealt with this motion,” Wingate said. “It was denied. It is denied again.”

He also rejected a request to allow the defendants to be tried separately.

Wingate said he would rule later on other motions, which would strike certain language from the indictment.

Minor, who accumulated millions primarily through personal injury litigation, was accused in 2003 of bribing Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., Whitfield and Teel.

The four were tried in U.S. District Court in Jackson last year in a highly publicized, three-month trial. A jury cleared Diaz of all charges and deadlocked on some charges against the other three.

Minor, Teel and Whitfield are scheduled for a new trial in August. However, Pigott asked for the trial to be pushed back until September so he can have more time to confer with Minor, who has been in a Brandon rehabilitation center.

Minor was jailed briefly in April for allegedly violating his federal probation by drinking excessively. At Minor’s request, Wingate allowed Minor to enter the rehab center.

The judge said he would take up the continuance motion on Monday.