Testimony ends in Miss. judicial bribery case

Published 12:26 am Sunday, March 25, 2007

Testimony has ended in Mississippi’s judicial bribery case and a federal judge has given the jury a weekend off before final arguments Tuesday.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry T. Wingate restricted testimony from witnesses for the three defendants, attorney Paul Minor, former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Chancery Judge Wes Teel.

Two witnesses called Thursday by Minor said their courts had systems in place to prevent “judge shopping” and cases weren’t assigned to Whitfield and Teel at Minor’s request. Minor’s attorneys were attempting to show the loans were not intended as bribes because he could not have known each of the judges would wind up with one of his cases.

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Prosecutors had attempted to show earlier in the trial that Minor steered cases to Teel and Whitfield knowing he would receive favorable rulings because he had secured loans for them in 1998 and later paid those loans.

The testimony wrapped up Thursday. Wingate said final jury instructions and closing arguments would be Tuesday with jury deliberations likely to begin Wednesday.

Circuit Court Administrator Becky Payne said Whitfield was randomly assigned to hear one of Minor’s cases in 1999. Former Chancery Court Administrator Jo Love Rogers, now retired, said if an attorney asked her for a specific judge, she went out of her way to assign a different judge.

Payne did concede under cross-examination that Whitfield could have recused himself.

Minor maintains he loaned the judges money, which is not in itself illegal, because they were friends, and he expected nothing in return.