THE BLOG
07/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Paul Minor's Attorneys Ask Attorney General To Intervene

Attorneys for Paul Minor wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday asking the Justice Department to conduct "an immediate full review" of Minor's case to determine if the government prosecutors who targeted Minor disclosed all of the evidence in their possession prior to Minor's 2005 and 2007 trials. The government has "an absolute duty... to disclose all exculpatory or favorable information prior to trial," according to the letter [PDF], which lays out multiple ways in which the government likely failed to meet the disclosure requirements mandated by law and upheld by the Supreme Court and an extensive case history.

The request for a review of Minor's case follows on the heels of similar reviews by the Obama DOJ of botched cases of Republicans prosecuted during the Bush years. The DOJ dismissed the case of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens due to improper prosecutorial conduct in April and immediately released him from prison. Earlier this month, the DOJ also released from prison former Alaska Republican state legislators Victor Kohring and Peter Kott while their cases are under review.

While the DOJ acted quickly to release Stevens and the other Republicans, Minor and his co-defendants, Mississippi state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield (all Democrats), remain in federal prison while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals deliberates their cases. Minor's attorneys have previously argued to Attorney General Holder that the strength of the arguments raised in his appeal alone requires the government to release him on bail pending the court's review, but Holder has not yet acted.

There is a common thread between the prosecutions of Senator Stevens, the Alaska state legislators, and Paul Minor, which Minor's attorneys argue is more than enough to warrant a swift review of Minor's case.

William Welch, head of the U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section (PIN), was one of the prosecutors of record on the government's side in both of Paul Minor's trials and his appeal currently before the Fifth Circuit. As the head of the Public Integrity Section, Welch also had senior management responsibility for all of the DOJ prosecutors involved in Minor's trial and appeal.

Welch was also involved in the Alaska trials, and he was recently stripped of his management responsibilities while investigators probe whether he and other senior Justice Department officials were involved in decisions to withhold materials that might have proved favorable to various defense teams, including lawyers defending Senator Stevens and the other Alaska Republicans whom the DOJ released from prison.

According to the letter, "a troubling pattern and practice has emerged in Public Integrity Section prosecutions managed by William Welch that has allowed ground level prosecutors to engage in the blatantly improper, unethical and unconstitutional trial tactic of withholding exculpatory evidence from defendants. Under the circumstances, this troubling prosecutorial abuse is at least as likely - if not even more likely - to have occurred in Mr. Minor's case than in the Bush-era improper prosecutions of Republicans Stevens, Kott and Kohring."

The letter notes that the same issue of nondisclosure of exculpatory evidence that led to the dismissal of Senator Stevens' case is also present in Paul Minor's case. Additionally, issues of political prosecution and misrepresentation of the law are evident as well.

Not only was Minor wrongfully targeted for political reasons, prosecutors also misrepresented the legal standard of proof required to convict him. While courts in other parts of the country have required the Justice Department to prove a specific quid pro quo "this for that" agreement in order to convict defendants under the very same bribery statute, the prosecutors in Minor's case disingenuously asserted to the court that the law had NEVER required Justice Department prosecutors to provide such quid pro quo proof to convict defendants such as Paul Minor.

The letter charges that such misconduct violates the prosecutors' duty to be "servants of the law," to be "impartial" and to not engage in such deceptive trial tactics "calculated to secure a wrongful conviction."

Justice should be blind to party affiliation, but during the Bush administration, partisan operatives undermined that principle for political gain. Attorney General Holder must restore that ethic within the DOJ.

This new evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in Minor's case - coupled with the likelihood that his prosecution was politically motivated - should compel Attorney General Holder to review Minor's case and immediately release him from prison. Until the matter is resolved - either by the Fifth Circuit ruling on his appeal, or, as in the case of Senator Stevens, by outright dismissal by the Justice Department, Minor deserves his freedom.