Bribery trial of Miss. tobacco lawyer, two state judges starts

John O'Brien Feb. 26, 2007, 3:14pm

JACKSON, Miss. - An attorney who represented the State of Mississippi during the landmark 1998 tobacco settlement went on trial Monday, accused of bribing two judges.

Paul Minor, appointed by then-Attorney General Mike Moore, reportedly earned $71 million in the settlement with tobacco companies that provided Mississippi with more than $3 billion. He has also served as the president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association.

Monday, the trial of Minor, former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and former Chancery Judge Wes Teel began. Minor is accused of using campaign contributions and loans to influence the two former judges' decisions.

They were acquitted of some corruption charges in 2005, but a jury did not agree unanimously on others. Minor was found not guilty on extortion, bribery and four mail fraud counts, while racketeering, wife fraud and two bribery counts went unresolved.

Whitfield was cleared on a wire fraud charge, and bribery and mail fraud charges went unresolved. The jury also failed to reach verdicts on Teel's bribery, wire fraud and mail fraud charges.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz was acquitted on all charges pertaining to him. It was alleged that Minor funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Diaz' ex-wife.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate is presiding.

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