New Trial Date Set In Case Against Justice, Prominent Attorney

An Aug. 16 trial date has been set for Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and prominent Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor, who are accused of participating a judicial fraud, bribery and extortion scheme.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate approved the trial date for Diaz, Minor and three others during a Friday hearing. Wingate said he would rule next week on several motions, including the prosecution's request for a gag order.

Minor, Diaz, Diaz's former wife Jennifer and former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were indicted last summer on the charges. Minor also faces a racketeering charge.

An additional charge of extortion was added by a federal grand jury last month, resulting in a delay in the originally scheduled trial date.

The new indictment added charges that Minor tried to extort money for Diaz from two attorneys whose case was before the Supreme Court, and it also expands the dates of Minor's alleged involvement with Diaz to 1994, when Diaz was on the Court of Appeals. Friday's hearing set a new schedule for the case.

Prosecutors have said they are seeking a gag order to ensure seating a jury that is not subject to media bias or influence. Defense attorneys have said that they have not made inappropriate statements about the case to the media. No new arguments were presented Friday on the gag order motion.

Justice Diaz petitioned the court to strike parts of the indictment and change wording in another part. His attorney, Rob McDuff, argued in court that parts of the indictment could mislead the jury, including a reference to a Supreme Court case involving Minor's father, veteran newspaper columnist Bill Minor.

"(Paul Minor) was not the attorney in the Supreme Court, therefore it is irrelevant,'' McDuff said.

Minor's attorney, Abbe Lowell, argued for a bill of particulars, which would require prosecutors to better explain what benefits Paul Minor received from Diaz.

"Without hearing what it is the justice did for Mr. Minor, it is impossible to defend this case,'' Lowell said.

Prosecutors argued doing so would reveal their trial strategy. Whitfield's attorney, Michael Crosby, reiterated his client's request for a separate trial.

Arguments for motions to dimiss the case, which have been filed by the Diazes and Minor, were not heard Friday.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)