As the title indicates, the issue explored in this two-part post is how the recently published Kings of Tort treated the circumstances surrounding the indictment and conviction of Paul Minor and the co-defendants of USA v Minor. On 10 December when the post was written, there was no Fifth Circuit opinion to distract and confuse readers as there is now that part one of the post has published.
Although the Fifth’s opinion has already answered the title question for some, the set of documents linked in part one – a Letter to Attorney General Holder and Minor’s Appellate Brief – provided a start point for developing a detailed and more easily documented response. The differing jury instructions and the evidentiary issues documented in the Letter and Brief had a significant impact on the outcome of Minor’s second trial; but, there were other equally significant distinctions between the two trials:
…on August 12, 2005, after deliberating for one week, the jury announced a partial verdict, acquitting Mr. Minor on six counts (four mail fraud counts, one bribery count, and one extortion count), partly acquitting Judge Whitfield, and fully acquitting Justice Diaz. (D431 at 1453-58.) The district court declared a mistrial as to all other counts, including eight against Mr. Minor. (Id.)
Despite this failure to obtain a single conviction, the government decided to retry the remaining pieces of the case. On December 6, 2005, it filed a Third Superseding Indictment against Mr. Minor and Judges Whitfield and Teel, recharging those counts subject to the mistrial-racketeering, fraud, and federal program bribery-and adding three new charges: one against Mr. Minor and Judge Whitfield for conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and honest services fraud and federal program bribery under 18 U.S.C. § 666; a nearly identical conspiracy charge against Mr. Minor and Judge Teel; and a charge against Mr. Minor and Judge Whitfield for mail and honest services fraud. (D454.)
These new counts, much like the eight remaining counts against Mr. Minor, were based on the same loan guarantees that Mr. Minor had made to Judges Whitfield and Teel. In total, Mr. Minor -who faced fourteen charges in the first trial and obtained six acquittals-now faced a total of eleven counts: one racketeering; two conspiracy; two bribery; and six honest services, mail, and/or wire fraud. (emphasis) Appellate Brief
Another signification distinction was that Minor started the second trial in a very different setting – already being held in a federal detention center for multiple and flagrant violations of his bail conditions…(Kings of Tort, Chapter 4, p.76)
Judge Wingate… found…he could not be trusted to abide by the terms of his bond. Wingate ordered Minor detained pending his trial. The pretrail negative publicity created a major problem for Minor…TV news file footage regularly showed Minor being let to court in an orange jumpsuit, looking disheveled and frail. (Kings of Tort, Chapter 4, p.77)
Only someone with a woeful ignorance of the degenerative disease of alcoholism would incarcerate an individual so clearly in need of treatment. Minor, in fact, was all but a poster child of classic alcoholic behavior.
Classic Alcoholic Behavior: An increase in failed promises and resolutions to one’s self and to others
Sadly, Judge Wingate appears to be far from the only individual unable to see Minor’s symptomatic behavior – otherwise there wouldn’t be comments in the blogoshpere about Minor’s strutting around, as some have said, bragging in a loud voice that he “owns” the judges in Mississippi.
Classic Alcoholic Behavior: Boasting and a “big shot” complex
Alcoholism is an ugly disease and classic alcoholic behavior hurts others and hurts for others to watch. It’s also a disease painful to those afflicted and denial is one of the most persistent symptomatic behavior.
When discussing matters of law, I am among the public Chief Justice Roberts had in mind when he stated what he and others called a fundamental principle:
If [the public] can’t [understand what a criminal law means], then the law is invalid.
However, when discussing the disease of alcoholism, I am in a different position – one that combines some recognized measure of professional expertise in the prevention and treatment of the disease with personal exposure to inflicted individuals in my family and among my closest friends.
It was from that professional-personal perspective that I read the Kings of Torts, Chapter Four:
- During a normally scheduled banking review at the Peopes Bank in early 2002, regulators noticed a strange pattern to Minor’s loans to judges…One of the regulators decided that enough questions had ben rased and that they should reach out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office…In July, upon learning about the investigation, Minor went to Scruggs’s office in a panic. (pages 61-62)
- Minor had a in law school classmante Leonard Radlaur…[and]…the two would bump into eacher occasionally at…a popular liquor store in New Orleans…According to documents later filed in his trial, Minor told Radlauer that he needed to repay a loan payment for Whitfield and “keep it out of the newspapers”…Radulaur agreed to help… (pages 65-66)
- A large part of the background of the trial was predicated on Minor’s self-proclaimed prowness as the “Judge Maker”…In the end, Diaz was chosen [by Governor Musgrove] to fill the [vacant] seat [on the Supreme Court]…Minor would also, as he had with judges in the past, notify Diaz of his successful appointment. (page 74)
Each of these three excerpts from the Kings of Tort reflects one or more examples of classic alcoholic behavior – Nameless fears and anxieties such as feelings of impending doom or destruction; Impaired thinking; Indefinable fears; Aggressive and grandiose behavior; Financial and relationship problems.
Understanding these behaviors as symptoms of the disease is a very different concept from excusing the behavior to discount the consequential outcome.
The disease is progressive and, in Minor’s case, so was the worsening of situations that likely increased the rate of progression. His first trial ended August 12, 2005, with a mixed verdict that resulted in the court declaring a mistrial on eight counts against Minor, creating the concomitant possibility of another trial. Seventeen days later, Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home.
I’ve been told he found housing in Louisiana where his wife, who was also fighting a powerful disease, would have the support of her family. A month or so later, October 2005, Minor was arrested in Baton Rouge on suspicion of drunk driving.
Like Katrina, alcoholism is an equalizing, destructive force that strikes without regard for either wealth or power – and, as a result, Paul Minor was as powerless against the disease as he was the storm.
To some Paul Minor is a political prisoner, to others he is a man deserving of the punishment meted out; but his alcoholism is beyond debate:
Paul Minor was sentenced by Judge Henry Wingate to eleven years in federal prison for his conviction on bribery charges…In court, a tearful Minor admitted his long struggle with alcoholism. (page 78)
Read the source documents linked in this two part post and those linked by the authors on the book’s website before attempting to decide your answer the question posed in the title. Mine follows:
Not accounting for the role the disease of alcoholism played in the decisions Paul Minor made that lead to his indictment and conviction is less than honest service to readers promised the true story. Unlike other omissions or overstatements in the book, it represents a literary form of denial much like the symptomatic denial associated with the disease.