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Justice for Sale: How Big Tobacco and the GOP teamed up to crush Democrats in the South

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Part VII of the Permanent Republican Majority Series

by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane

Almost immediately after his appointment as US Attorney for the
Southern District of Mississippi in late 2001, Dunnica Lampton began to
investigate key Mississippi Democrats.

Trial lawyer and major Democratic campaign contributor Paul Minor
quickly became a target of such an investigation.
Minor, one of the largest Democratic donors in the South and the
largest in Mississippi, would quickly find himself in the midst of a
political firing line.

On July 25, 2003, three months before the Mississippi gubernatorial
election, in a case that would stun the legal community, Mississippi
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., Paul Minor, former chancery
court judge Wes Teel and former circuit court judge John Whitfield were
indicted on charges of bribery, relating to loan guarantees that Minor
had made to the three judges to help defray campaign costs.

There was no state law prohibiting Minor's contributions, and his
trial resulted in an acquittal on some charges and a deadlocked jury on
others. However, this trial was immediately followed by the unsealing
of fresh charges.

During the second trial, presiding Judge Henry Wingate excluded
evidence showing that Minor had a long-established pattern of offering
loans or loan guarantees to his friends in the legal community, thus
creating the appearance that Minor had helped the three judges in hopes
of receiving something in return.


Although prosecutors were unable to prove that Minor had bribed the
judges in exchange for favors from the bench, the second trial resulted
in a conviction. The jury determined
that a quid pro quo had taken place between Minor and two of the
judges, Teel and Whitfield, in large part because Judge Wingate had
instructed them it was not necessary for the prosecution to prove

Even thought no quid pro quo was proven and there was no state law
prohibiting lawyers from making loan guarantees to judges, Minor was
sentenced to serve an 11-year prison term and pay over $4 million in
fines and restitution.

In a startling similarity to the case of former Alabama Governor Don
Siegelman -- who was also targeted by a Bush-appointed US Attorney --
Minor has been denied appeal bond. Both Siegelman and Minor, despite
being convicted of white-collar, non-violent crimes, were shackled and
manacled, and moved to out-of-state prisons. (See Part
of this series)


The beginning: Big Tobacco

The tortuous trail to Paul Minor's jailing begins in the 1990s, with
the set of history-making cases brought against the tobacco industry by
states seeking to recover smoking-related health costs. Minor was among
those representing the plaintiffs. He joined numerous other trial
lawyers and state attorneys general, including Mississippi Attorney
General Mike Moore.

The tobacco industry settled without going to trial, making a $246
billion dollar payout to the states -- the largest civil settlement in
history. Among those forced to pay were the four biggest tobacco
companies: R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson
Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Company, and Philip Morris USA.

Trial lawyers like Minor earned millions from the deal. Many became
generous contributors to Democratic candidates and campaigns,
especially in the South. Minor was one of the largest contributors to
Southern Democrats and the largest in the state of Mississippi.

Republicans, meanwhile, who had previously enjoyed generous
donations from the tobacco industry, were left with little for their
campaign coffers.


Rove, Tort Reform, and Big Tobacco

Karl Rove, the former Bush Administration White House Deputy Chief
of Staff, is alleged
by Republican attorney turned whistle-blower Dana Jill Simpson to have
played a major role in the prosecution of Don Siegelman in Alabama.
Simpson is not alone in her allegations. Many lawyers, politicians, and
even active members of the Alabama RNC have made similar allegations
during the course of our investigation.

As one Alabama Republican close to the state Republican Party told
Rove "would never discuss anything on the phone. He would tell you to
meet him at some corner and then you get there and sure enough he is
standing in the middle of the intersection waving at you."


But as Raw Story's series has shown, Rove's role in the US Attorney
scandal is one that he has played for many years -- acting as a broker
on deals which were rewarded by corporate donations to Republican

"Rove is a lobbyist," said one Washington source close to the
investigation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who wishes to remain
anonymous. "He never stopped being a lobbyist."

Rove met frequently in 2002-03 with Abramoff, other lobbyists, and
Alabama campaign operatives -- specifically with members of Bob Riley's
gubernatorial campaign. Riley was Don Siegelman's Republican opponent,
and Riley's campaign advisor, Bill Canary, was Karl Rove's long-time business
Moreover, Bill Canary's wife, Leura, was appointed by George W. Bush as
US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, and it is her office
that prosecuted Siegelman.

Ten years before the tobacco settlement, in 1988, Rove had already
discovered the advantages of appealing to both voters and corporate
donors by painting trial lawyers who had won generous settlements in
cases of corporate negligence or medical malpractice as greedy
corruptors of the judicial process. With Rove's encouragement,
the "tort reform" movement, aimed at limiting damage settlements,
developed rapidly through the 1990s, pulling in corporate contributions
and twice helping Rove elect George W. Bush as governor of Texas.

Rove also served a consultant for tobacco giant Philip Morris, which
invested heavily in Texas judicial races, helping to secure Republican
dominance in that state's courts by the end of the decade. An internal
Philip Morris document
from 1995 indicates just how involved big tobacco was in creating the
"Tort Reform Project" -- although there is no evidence tying Rove
directly to that strategy.

Rove even did his best to head off Texas's participation in the
state lawsuits against the tobacco industry. "From 1991 through 1996,
while guiding the ascent of Bush to the Texas governorship and during
his early years in that office, Rove worked as a $3,000-a-month
consultant to Philip Morris," Salon's Sidney Blumenthal wrote
last year. "In 1996, when Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a
suit against tobacco companies seeking compensation for state Medicaid
funds spent on workers who fell ill because of smoking, Rove conducted
a dirty trick against him -- a push poll spreading smears about him."


The US Attorney scandal: Purchasing the law and cutting off
Democratic campaign funding

The US Attorney scandal as it unfolded in the South might best be
understood as a two-part strategy that simultaneously served both the
corporate sponsors of Southern Republicans and the politicians to whom
they contributed. One aspect of this two-pronged strategy can be seen
as a bribery scandal, in which corporate interests received government
favors as a corollary to campaign donations.

In Alabama, the corporate client was the gambling industry. Its
lobbyist was the now-convicted felon Jack Abramoff, who brokered deals
and funneled money to Republican congressional coffers. Although the
money came in from neighboring Mississippi, the issue for Abramoff's
gambling clients was a proposed state lottery that Alabama Governor Don
Siegelman was promoting. The gambling industry flooded Republican
coffers in exchange for other types of favors, such as the loosening of
gambling industry oversight.

In Mississippi, the corporate client was big tobacco -- and their
chief lobbyist now sits in the Mississippi governor's chair.

The second aspect of the strategy is the politicization of US law
enforcement by the Bush administration, specifically the Department of
Justice. The US Attorney scandal is less about the US Attorneys who
were fired than about those who remained and are alleged to have used
federal law enforcement resources to intimidate Democratic campaign


Family tragedy

Paul Minor has been in prison for nearly two years, since the judge
ruled in Sept. 2006 that he had violated the terms of his bond by
drinking excessively and not abiding by terms of his house arrest.
During that time, his wife Sylvia's breast cancer has spread to her
brain and spine. According to family and friends, Mrs. Minor has now
had all of her medications stopped except for pain management drugs,
indicating that she is in the last stages of her illness.

Minor had started drinking as a result of the two prosecutions and
the mounting costs of his legal defense, although he admits it's been a
life-long battle. During the second trial, Minor's wife Sylvia
developed breast cancer. The stress of the personal tragedy and the
trials, say those close to Minor, caused him to drink. Wingate ruled
that Minor's drinking was a violation of his bond.

Mrs. Minor's health has since deteriorated severely. Bill Minor,
Paul Minor's father, who is a well-respected
former correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and a
political columnist for the Clarion-Ledger, says that his
daughter-in-law has taken a bad turn.

Joseph Morris Doss, Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Minor
family's pastor and friend, confirmed that Mrs. Minor was no longer
being administered medications other than those for pain management.

"She is not doing well," the bishop said last week. "The cancer has
spread from her breasts, to her brain, to her spine, and a mass on the
outside of her lung. She is no longer receiving medication for any of
the cancer, only for pain and discomfort."

Minor is currently attempting to obtain furlough to visit his wife.
Attorneys close to Minor's case fear that the furlough request will not
be granted due to the political scandal surrounding Minor's two trials
and his subsequent imprisonment.


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