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I wrote here and here about the case of a former Mississippi Chancery Court Judge, Wes Teel. He was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Dunnica Lampton on corruption charges as one of several targets in Lampton’s far-flung causerie against Democratic trial lawyers in Mississippi and the judges who received their campaign support. (Lampton, as you will recall, was exceedingly deep into funding and supporting Republican judges in Mississippi. He clearly found an exceedingly effective way to do it.) After an initial hung jury, Teel faced a second trial before Reagan-appointee Henry Wingate, before whom the Bush Justice Department dangled the prospect of a promotion to the Court of Appeals as the case was pending—a rather curious way to pursue a case alleging judicial corruption, I thought. But all too typical of the Bush Justice Department. Wingate changed the rules in the second trial and leaned on the jury to convict, which they did. He then threw the book at the defendants, handing out sentences that stunned nearly all observers (excepting perhaps the leadership of the Mississippi Republican Party) with their severity.
Another exceedingly curious aspect of Judge Wingate’s conduct was his continuous ducking of motions to let Judge Teel stay out pending appeal, a move which is completely conventional in cases of this sort. As I have noted elsewhere, one of the characteristics of abusive political prosecutions around the country is that the prosecutors and the collaborating Republican judges are extremely eager to send those convicted off to jail. This maximizes political press benefits from the prosecutions, which are, of course, done to damage their political opponents and to help Republican candidates. Putting the defendants in jail serves the further goal of silencing them, so that the Bush Justice spokesmen can continue to dominate press coverage with sanctimonious press missives about “public corruption.” Wingate had a number of scheduled meetings with Teel’s lawyer, George Lucas, to discuss his long pending motion to be set free pending appeal. He broke all the appointments.
On the merits, there is little doubt that the motion should be granted. Teel was sentenced under an unprecedented theory by which Lampton turned matters that were not considered wrongdoing under Mississippi law, or even under Mississippi judicial ethics rules, into federal crimes. A fair-minded judge would have questioned what this prosecutor was up to and would have dismissed the case to begin with. Beyond this, Teel’s wife required medical attention and support, giving him a strong case to be left free until the appellate court hears and rules on his attack on the shenanigans in the Jackson, Mississippi district court.
As we have seen in the Siegelman case—and even the Alabama media have come at length to remark upon—this is one of the oldest tricks in the book. By not ruling, Wingate assures that Teel cannot take the matter to the Court of Appeals. He must have a ruling to appeal. So not ruling is considerably worse for Teel than a ruling denying the motion. Which perfectly explains Wingate’s politically expedient posture in the matter.
At the end of December, Judge Teel therefore reported to prison in Atlanta. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Teel suffered a heart attack shortly after the start of his induction process. He had to be rushed for emergency medical service, and received a triple-bypass. He is said to be recuperating now in a post on his website, The Gulf Coast Realist. The Biloxi Sun Herald also ran a story confirming these facts.
I recently communicated with Teel’s friend Dr. Simone Simone, who gave me a bit more detail. It seems that Teel arrived at prison on December 27, as required by Judge Wingate, and was told that there would be no one there to process him in for several days. Late on New Year’s Day he was nauseated and felt pain radiating down his arm, typical signs for a heart attack. It struck that night. His condition was so bad that it took the better part of a week for doctors to stabilize him for a triple-bypass operation. Curiously, although his condition was clearly life-threatening, and continues to be serious, Justice Department officials never contacted his family about any of this. It also appears that although his medical records were forwarded to the prison long in advance of his arrival, he was not dispensed his medications, and so was able to take only a small amount of one medication he was able to bring with him.
This is the best I can gather on the difficult condition of one of the Bush Administration’s most prominent political prisoners, Judge Wes Teel of Mississippi. I’m hoping he pulls through. If he doesn’t there should be a lot of justifiably tough questions asked about exactly what happened and who is responsible for it.
More from Scott Horton:
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”