Federal judge grants delay in Miss. judicial bribery trial

Published 10:59 pm Monday, July 3, 2006

A federal judge on Monday granted defense attorneys’ request for a one-month delay in a Mississippi judicial bribery trial.

Jury selection is now set to start Sept. 18 in Jackson in the trial of Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor, former Harrison County Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Harrison County Chancellor Wes Teel.

Minor, 60, is undergoing court-ordered treatment for alcohol abuse at a residential center in Rankin County. His defense attorneys said they need more time to prepare for trial, which had been set to start Aug. 14.

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U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate approved the delay.

Minor appeared in court Monday but did not address Wingate. On the lapel of his suit, Minor wore a Bronze Star he received for bravery in the Vietnam War.

Minor accumulated millions of dollars, primarily through personal injury litigation. He 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 high-profile case that lasted three months. A jury cleared Diaz of all charges and deadlocked on some charges against the other three men.

Whitfield and Teel did not appear in court Monday.

Wingate said he will rule later on other motions, including prosecutors’ request to call a jury pool from the entire southern half of Mississippi rather than only from a few counties.

Wingate said he will require potential jurors to fill out questionnaires. He asked prosecutors and Minor’s defense attorney, Brad Pigott, for their thoughts about the procedure.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Fulcher said he has no objection to Wingate using the same jury questionnaire that was used in the first trial.

“No need to reinvent the wheel,” Fulcher said.

Pigott said the questions should be edited to delete references to those no longer involved in the case.

Wingate last week refused to dismiss charges in the case. Pigott had asked Wingate to toss out 12 of 14 counts of the indictment, saying the charges failed to outline a breach of duty as required by law. A Justice Department attorney said jurors should decide the relevance of the charges.

Minor was jailed briefly in April after Wingate found that Minor violated his federal probation by drinking excessively. Wingate later allowed Minor to enter the rehabilitation center for treatment.