Paul Minor Denied Release by 5th Circuit and Justice Department

Justice Department officials told the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday that the government opposes the release of Paul Minor, the prominent Mississippi trial attorney currently serving 11 years in prison following his selective prosecution by the Bush DOJ. The 5th Circuit moved quickly to deny Minor's motion for release.

Minor remains locked up in the Pensacola Federal Prison Camp while his wife Sylvia's condition continues to deteriorate. "Her demise is imminent," according to an April 4 report from the oncologist monitoring the progression of her terminal brain cancer.

The wording of the 5th Circuit Court's denial does offer a ray of hope that the two might be reunited, but only if the Obama Justice Department moves quickly to support his emergency furlough. The 5th Circuit response indicates that the judges deliberating Minor's appeal agree that he meets the requirements necessary for a temporary furlough. Different from the release on bail that Minor requested, a temporary furlough could be granted for a period of up to 30 days, allowing Minor to spend time with his dying spouse and to say goodbye in a dignified manner.

The Bureau of Prisons and the Warden could grant a brief furlough for a bedside visit with an armed guard, if deemed necessary. With any luck, the BOP and Warden will allow Minor an extended visit to love and comfort his wife and family under the 30 day furlough statute. Any sense of human decency requires no less - especially when there are substantial questions raised in Mr. Minor's appeal that will likely require reversal of his conviction.

Curiously, the 5th Circuit judges based their denial of Minor's release on Judge Priscilla Owen's previous denial last year of Minor's request for release pending his appeal. Judge Owen recused herself from Minor's case minutes before the appeal hearing began last week in Austin, Texas.

Owen's recusal was appropriate given her close ties to Karl Rove, who is currently under investigation by the House Judiciary Committee for allegedly targeting key Democrats for prosecution, including Paul Minor, and for his role in the ousting of U.S. attorneys who refused to carry out the partisan bidding of the Bush administration.

Rove was reportedly "very impressed" with Priscilla Owen's judicial philosophy when the two met in 1994, and he agreed to shepherd her onto the Texas Supreme Court, collecting nearly a quarter million dollars in fees in the process. Ever since then, according to The New York Times, Priscilla Owen has been "guided by the hand of Karl Rove."

In the Texas Supreme Court race, Rove helped Owen amass a war chest of over $926,000 in campaign contributions from Big Business and the ranks of the Texas GOP. Owen then obliged some of her biggest donors by ruling favorably on their lawsuits with amazing consistency. The watchdog group Texans For Public Justice reported "more than $500,000 (37 percent) of the $1.4 million that Owen raised for her two Supreme Court campaigns came from lawyers and litigants who had cases in her courtroom... Owen's 11 biggest litigant-donors (including Enron Corp., Farmers Insurance and Dow Chemical) appeared in her courtroom 26 times. While these big docket donors prevailed an enviable 77 percent of the time before the court as a whole, Owen was even kinder - favoring them 85 percent of the time."

(Ironically, prior to her election to the Court, Priscilla Owen wrote articles and lobbied the Texas Legislature to eliminate partisan election of judges, arguing that they hinder the ability of courts to provide impartial justice.)

A member of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, Judge Owen was finally appointed to the 5th Circuit Court by George W. Bush in 2005. Congress blocked her first nomination in 2003. A contemporary New York Times editorial stated that Judge Owen's "ideology drives her decisions," and that her nomination was "not by chance," because the Bush White House sought out judges like Owen for their "aggressive conservative agendas."

Another editorial from Owen's hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, chastised her "clear preference for ruling to achieve a particular result rather than impartially interpreting the law."

A 2005 New York Times article characterized Owens' nomination as "the latest reward of a partnership that began a dozen years ago when a prominent Texas conservative introduced her to Karl Rove, who was at the time a political consultant and emerging kingmaker."

According to the Times article, "Ms. Owen, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove became close friends. Each year, Ms. Owen cooked a dinner of quail, a Texas specialty, for Mr. Bush, Laura Bush and other judges on the court, usually at Mr. Rove's home."

Given the near certainty that Rove was the chief strategist behind the Bush Justice Department's targeted prosecutions of Democratic fundraisers including Paul Minor, Owen's impartiality in hearing Minor's appeal was questionable, and she was correct to recuse herself. Why the 5th Circuit panel is relying on Owen's previous denial of Minor's release to deny him bail now is mystifying.

The Obama Justice Department should move quickly to review the circumstances of Minor's conviction. More immediately, given Mrs. Minor's condition, DOJ should grant Paul Minor an emergency furlough to say goodbye to his wife Sylvia.