Judicial corruption: Indictment of system

Published 1:51 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The conviction of lawyer Paul Minor and two former state judges on federal corruption charges points to bigger problems of elected judges who accept contributions from lawyers and other special interests.

A federal court jury found Minor, former Chancery Judge Wes Teel and former Circuit Judge John Whitfield guilty on Friday. Minor faces a maximum 95 years in prison; Whitfield 50 years, and Teel 25 years. Sentencing is June 14.

This is their second trial. In 2005, jurors acquitted the three men on some charges and failed to agree on others.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The government showed Minor arranged a $25,000 line of credit for Teel and loans of $40,000 and $100,000 for Whitfield at a Biloxi bank in 1998, then secretly paid off the notes as part of a scheme to influence cases involving his clients in the two judges’ courts.

Not to excuse Minor or the judges, but the conviction is rather an indictment of the state’s system of justice. The problem is that judges taking cash and loans from attorneys is legal in Mississippi — arising from the way the state selects judges through elections, which allows cash, loans and contributions from those who appear before them.

In order for such cozy relationships between lawyers and judges to be considered criminal, it has to be proven that the judge ruled differently because of the contribution.

Apparently, federal prosecutors were able to prove such this time. But getting “inside the mind” of a judge who has accepted gifts is nearly impossible.

The state should change to appointing judges. The current system is fraught with conflicts and problems.