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The Pickering Diaries

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Just what went on in the right-wing Republican frat house that passes for a “church” on C Street? It looks like part of the answer is to be found in Mississippi, where legal maneuvers in twin divorce and alienation of affection lawsuits have focused on a set of journals maintained by former Congressman Chip Pickering—a man widely expected to leap to the leadership of the state’s dominant G.O.P. machine before his extramarital affairs drew public attention. “While former Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi allegedly carried on an extramarital affair with Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd,” writes the Daily Beast’s Max Blumenthal, “he recorded details of his exploits in a secret diary, including the dates and locations of his adulterous encounters.”

I would question the ultimate news value of another story about a “family values” Republican congressman involved in an adulterous liaison in Washington. But the real story here is about a politically influenced court system. The court should strive to enforce the law, doing substantial justice and looking after the best interests of the five children of Chip Pickering and his estranged wife Leisha. It should take into account the fact that Chip Pickering, as a public personage, is not entitled to the level of privacy and protection that a purely private individual would have—in fact, the public has a legitimate interest in knowing what he did when he went to Congress as their representative, pledging to uphold a “family values” creed. But Pickering carefully steered the case into the court of Judge Cynthia Lee Brewer, a move that proved tactically brilliant. Brewer protected him and his political position from the outset, putting the interests of his wife and five children in the shadows. Brewer is a loyal Republican with political ties to the party’s leadership, including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. He engineered the G.O.P.’s successful political makeover of the Mississippi courts, fueling the G.O.P. judicial slate with Washington-based lobbying money. Pickering also now works with a lobbying firm in which the Barbour family is deeply involved. Judge Brewer’s one-sided rulings include extraordinary efforts to suppress the Pickering journals and a highly improper disqualification of the wife’s counsel coupled with compelling the wife to testify without legal representation. Max Blumenthal takes us on a tour of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of politically charged justice in Mississippi, as it strains to suppress documents that could blow apart one of Washington’s most lurid scandals.

When she attempted to introduce her husband’s diary as evidence during a July 7 divorce hearing in Mississippi, Pickering’s lawyers demanded Judge Cynthia Lee Brewer keep them under seal. Though the lawyers had scant legal precedent for their request, the judge acceded, saying the diaries were prepared in anticipation of litigation and were therefore inadmissible in court. A source close to the case told me Brewer’s ruling was “incredibly outside the norm” and “outrageous.” “The court seemed in awe of Chip Pickering,” an attorney speaking on background told the Jackson Free Press, “like they had decided that were going to do everything to help him out. This was blatantly wrong.”

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