Wife of imprisoned ex-attorney dies of cancer

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sylvia Minor, the wife of imprisoned former attorney Paul Minor, died of brain cancer as her husband sought a temporary release to be by her side, his attorney said Tuesday. She was 62.

Paul Minor’s father and his attorney, Hiram Eastland Jr., confirmed that Sylvia Minor died Monday. Both said they were “deeply saddened” by her death in Louisiana. She had been under hospice care for terminal brain cancer.

Minor was one of Mississippi’s most successful civil lawsuit attorneys before being sent to prison in 2007 for bribery. He and Sylvia were married 41 years.

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She worked early on in his law office on the Mississippi coast, which eventually earned a national reputation and made millions from lawsuits against tobacco and asbestos makers and other companies.

She had degrees in social work from Louisiana State University and Tulane University and remained loyal to her husband throughout his legal troubles, often bringing a cushion to court for long days of testimony.

Paul Minor “was just absolutely crushed” by news of the death, said his father, journalist Bill Minor.

Paul Minor, 63, was granted a few hours to spend with his wife in February. He later asked the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to grant him emergency bond while the judges considered a request to throw out the conviction.

The 5th Circuit denied the request for bond, but noted that he may be eligible for a temporary release through the prison system. The following day, Minor asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to support his request for a 30-day temporary release. No decision had been made.

“We’re really deeply saddened by Sylvia’s passing and we’re renewing our request to the Justice Department that Paul be allowed to spend this time with his family,” Eastland said.

Minor’s attorney sent another letter to Holder on Tuesday, asking that Minor be released immediately for 30 days to attend the funeral and spend time with his family, including a grown son and daughter.

A private funeral was being planned in New Orleans.

Minor is serving an 11-year sentence in a federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla., after being convicted in March 2007 of bribing two former judges in coastal Harrison County.

He was convicted of orchestrating a scheme in which he guaranteed loans for the judges, then used cash and third parties to conceal the fact that he paid off the loans. The judges were convicted of giving Minor’s clients favorable rulings in exchange for the money.

Minor was one of the biggest financial backers of Democrats in Mississippi and claims he was wrongfully prosecuted by Republicans in the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. Prosecutors have called the allegation “wild speculation and innuendo.”

Bill Minor said Tuesday his son was wrongly convicted because “there was no bribery” and the two Harrison County judges ruled appropriately in favor of Paul Minor because his cases were solid.

Minor’s attorneys have made similar arguments in court, saying the trial jury should have been required to find explicit proof that the loans were in exchange for specific acts, known in legal terms as a “quid pro quo.”

Minor’s first trial in 2005 — when the jury was hung on some charges and acquitted Minor on others — included the quid pro quo instruction. The jury instructions in the second trial were different, requiring only a finding of “intent to influence,” Eastland has said.