Minor, Diaz Ask Federal Judge To Dismiss Judicial Bribery Charges

A Gulf Coast attorney and a Mississippi Supreme Court justice on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss new charges in a judicial bribery case.

The motions on behalf of attorney Paul Minor and Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and his ex-wife Jennifer, were filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson. U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton said Friday that he would not comment on the motions.

Diaz and Minor, along with former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield and Jennifer Diaz are accused of participating in a scheme in which Minor allegedly provided cash, loans and gifts to the judges in exchange for favorable decisions.

They were originally indicted last summer. A new indictment was filed by federal prosecutors in February. The new indictment charged Diaz and Minor with extortion besides fraud and bribery.

All five have pleaded innocent. A trial date has been set for Aug. 16.

The new indictment added charges that Minor tried to extort money for Diaz from two attorneys whose case was before the Supreme Court.

Minor allegedly told the attorneys that Diaz had swung the Supreme Court's vote in favor of their client, and then asked for $20,000 for Diaz while the court considered a motion to rehear the case, according to the indictment.

The indictment also expanded the dates of Minor's alleged involvement with Diaz to 1994, when Diaz was on the Court of Appeals.

In the motion for Minor, attorneys said there were defects in the new indictment and many of the counts in it duplicated others.

Minor also argued that prosecutors failed to prove elements of the Hobbs Act, which governs violence or extortion that could affect interstate commerce. He said prosecutors could not prove that conversations about political contributions are criminal.

Minor also contended that dismissal of the indictment was necessary because of prosecutorial vindictiveness. Minor claimed that after he challenged the original indictment, federal prosecutors decided to reopen the investigation and added the additional charges. He said prosecutors were retaliating because his challenge to the indictment.

In the dismissal motion filed for Diaz and his ex-wife, Jackson attorney Robert McDuff said the allegations in the new indictment do not properly charge any federal crime.

McDuff said Diaz had already recused himself from Minor's cases before the Supreme Court. He said Jennifer Diaz had nothing to do with the Supreme Court decisions and did not influence them.

McDuff said the government filed new charges because the original charges could not be proved.

"The federal government is attempting not only to overstep its bounds and prosecute a purported campaign finance violation, which would be a misdemeanor under Mississippi law, but transform it into a federal felony charge.

"If this indictment is allowed to stand, it will stretch the bounds of federal law so that almost any alleged state campaign finance violation can be made into a federal felony case, requiring citizens to stand trial for their liberty on cases the federal government has no business prosecuting,'' the motion said.

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