Legal Ethics

Big-Name PI Lawyer Sentenced for Bribing Judges

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A wealthy Biloxi lawyer and two former Mississippi judges were sentenced on Friday for taking part in a bribery scheme.

Lawyer Paul Minor was sentenced to serve 11 years in prison and ordered to pay a $2.75 million fine and $1.5 million in restitution, the Sun Herald reports. Minor earns as much as $2.5 million a year from a tobacco settlement. He also made big money handling asbestos, medical malpractice and car safety cases, the Associated Press reports.

Prosecutors had contended Minor bribed former judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel to obtain favorable results in cases.

In the case involving Teel, prosecutors say Minor guaranteed a $25,000 line of credit for him and then made payments on it, according to a press release. Minor also paid legal defense costs for Teel in an investigation of misappropriation of funds that ultimately led to the judge’s acquittal.

Teel then made favorable pretrial rulings for Minor in a suit against an insurance company claiming bad-faith failure to pay a claim. The insurer settled for $1.5 million after Teel indicated he would be inclined to rule for the plaintiff.

In the Whitfield case, Minor was accused of guaranteeing and making payments on two loans totaling $140,000.

Whitfield was sentenced to nine years and two months in prison, and Teel was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison. The three defendants are appealing their convictions.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate of Jackson, Miss., said the wrongdoing had put an end to the defendants’ “upward spiraling” careers. “Lady Justice is sobbing,” he said. “You essentially put justice up for sale.”

The sentence does not end all the defendants’ legal woes. The insurer that settled the case before Teel, U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Co., sued the lawyer and judge after it learned that prosecutors were citing the case in their bribery allegations, the Jackson Clarion Ledger reports. The suit is pending.

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