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Part II: How a Bush US attorney helped prosecute a Democrat-backed judge
Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane
Published: Tuesday April 1, 2008

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The Diaz Case and Mississippi politics

The Diaz indictments were unsealed in July 2003, just a few months before the Mississippi gubernatorial elections between Republican Haley Barbour and Democratic incumbent, Ronnie Musgrove. Barbour won, making him only one of two Republicans to be elected as Governor of Mississippi since the post Civil-War reconstruction of the late 1880s.

Barbour's campaign focused heavily on Musgrove's ties to trial lawyers and advertised the fact that Paul Minor had donated $112,000 to Musgrove's previous campaign. President George W. Bush even appeared in Mississippi in 2003 and suggested that “one way to make sure this is a good state in which to create jobs is to have a governor who's willing to take off the -- take on the plaintiffs attorneys and fight for real, meaningful litigation reform. … You don't want the greatest wealth accumulation in any state to be in the hands of plaintiff's attorneys.”

Diaz was acquitted during the first trial in August 2005. Like Siegelman in Alabama, however, Diaz was indicted again almost immediately. Lampton’s own position as a US attorney may have been under threat at the time of Diaz’s first trial, because his name appears on the Department of Justice “to-fire” list by March of 2005.

Seven US Attorneys were ultimately fired. Lampton, however, was not among them. It is unclear what saved Lampton from the firing squad, but the Diaz-Minor case could have had something to do with it.

During our interview with Diaz, we asked him what would have happened if he had been convicted and subsequently removed from the state supreme court. Diaz explained that Barbour would have had to appoint a replacement. When asked whom he thought that replacement might have been, Diaz said that Barbour "would have complete discretion to appoint anyone he wanted who was otherwise qualified to hold the office."

"I do not know who Barbour would have appointed to my seat....... if there was speculation at the time no one shared it with me," Diaz added. "Starrett would have been a leading candidate I'm sure."

US Attorney's Conflicts of Interest in the Minor case

RAW STORY has also found a raft of potential conflicts of interest involving Lampton and Minor.

At the time when Lampton began investigating Paul Minor, his own interests were directly under threat. Minor had successfully sued several companies associated with Lampton's family members and contributors to his unsuccessful bid for a Congressional seat.

In 2002, Minor was in the midst of a major plaintiffs’ case against a company called Magnolia Trucking, a subsidiary of Ergon Inc., a private firm owned by the Lampton family. Members of the Lampton family with ties to Ergon include Leslie B. Lampton, Director and CEO; Bill Lampton, the President of the Asphalt Division ; and Lee Lampton, Director of Operations.

FEC documents for 2000 show that Ergon employees collectively donated $10,300 to Lampton’s congressional campaign. Lampton family members donated $5,250.

Ergon Inc. also has a relationship with the Barbour family. Following Haley Barbour’s election as governor of Mississippi, his nephews, Austin and Henry Barbour, became lobbyists with Capitol Resources, LLC, a firm whose clients included Ergon.

Lampton also received donations in 2000 from two of the major tobacco companies involved in the 1998 settlement, Lorillard and Brown & Williams. Haley Barbour, who was then Lorillard’s lobbyist, donated to Lampton as well.

The role of the Justice Department

One final connection between the Siegelman and Diaz cases involves the role of Noel Hillman. As head of the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice, Hillman played a central role in the US Attorney scandal, working to expedite numerous cases against Democrats and stall those against Republicans.

Hillman appears to have taken a particularly active role in the prosecution of Governor Don Siegelman. In 2005, he even traveled to Alabama for the press conference announcing the indictments, proclaiming, “If you abuse the power of your office to advance your own political and financial interests at the expense of the people who elected you, the Department of Justice will identify you, investigate you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Hillman was even more closely involved in the Diaz case. His name was on the original announcement of indictments, along with Lampton’s, and his office then undertook the management of the case to such a degree that it created uncertainty as to whether Lampton had recused himself or not.

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman, said that she understands from speaking with other lawyers involved in the Minor case, that Lampton had recused himself.

When asked for documentation showing that Lampton had indeed withdrawn himself from the case, Sweeney, noted said that she needed to look into it.

"Let me look into that and get back to you," she said Tuesday.

Hillman was nominated to serve as a federal judge by President Bush in January 2006.

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Larisa Alexandrovna is the Managing Editor of Investigative News for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security matters. Contact her at [email protected]