For someone who had never had a traffic ticket, the reality of being arrested and charged with a crime hit home for me when the Sun Herald newspaper splashed across its headlines that I was the target of a federal investigation involving Paul Minor and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz. This was conveniently "leaked" to the media from the so called secret grand jury investigation. My first reaction was total shock. How could the paper publish such a report when grand jury testimony is secret ?
Some secret. Oh, did I mention this came right in the middle of my campaign for reelection to the Chancery Court Judgeship ? Did I also fail to mention that the leak from the grand jury was never investigated by the FBI or the federal prosecutors ? I wonder why ? And, least I forget this factoid, the incumbent DA, Cono Caranna, who prosecuted me on trumped up charges and lost - I was completely exonerated after the jury stayed out for 15 minutes - actively supported and campaigned for my opponent.
Although I carried all but 3 precincts in the general election, because I did not obtain a majority, a runoff was required. You can imagine the effect the federal investigation announcement in the newspaper had on my reelection. That did it for me. I was personally shocked that an incumbent District Attorney on the public payroll, Mr. Caranna, would not only engage in politics outside his office duties, but further that he actually stood at election headquarters next to one of my opponent's campaign managers and assisted in keeping a tally on the votes. I wonder how much of his taxpayer paid time was devoted to defeating me ?
A Little History
I was the Senior Chancery Judge at the time and I need to factor one more item into this equation, his wife, Margaret Alfonso (she does not use his last name - not that I blame her) was next in line for the position. After I was defeated guess who took over as Senior Chancery Judge - yes, Margaret. I confess the other judges and I did not get along with Judge Alfonso primarily because she made it very difficult for the lawyers she worked with, and many of them refused to deal with her unless they had no choice. This increased our workload.
Margaret was so silly. One day a lawyer friend of mine gave me a necktie that a Viagra sales rep had given him. It had the words "Viagra " on it printed on a slant in small letters. It was blue, of course, and it was a joke. I put it on and wore it down the hall to the coffee room (not open to the public). It was a joke. She called the Senior Judge and complained. It was a joke. My God, I didn't wear it in court. I didn't wear it in public. It was a joke. The Senior Judge thought it was a joke when she called to complain about me, and thought she was a joke too ! Actually, most of the lawyers did too, and still do. They are, understandably, afraid to admit it. Fear factor.
I suppose I just wanted to get reelected and wear that tie, and in the famous words of singer Ray Stevens, call her and tell her, "It's me again Margaret. Bet you can't guess what I'm doing".
I truly enjoyed my job. I loved being a judge, not because of any prestiege, but because it afforded me the opportunity to help people. The amazing thing was I actually believed I was making a difference. I wanted to keep my job.
But, it was not to be.
If you have not had to have contact with the legal system count yourself fortunate. It will sully you. My friend, Roger Shuler, had one such contact and soon discovered being in the right and being innocent is absolutely no guaranty you will prevail in your case. Actually, in the real world being in the right does not always count in court. We fool ourselves in thinking that it does because this makes us comfortable. You can, and should, read about Roger's experiences in his excellent blog http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/. What counts more in court is the side that has more money, is able to gin up more pretrial publicity, and perhaps has a hidden political agenda that cannot be located in the cold array of a trial transcript.
My family and I have been living a nightmare ever since the day I was indicted. This has been going on for over 4 years and then some. I am emotionally, mentally, and financially drained. Unless you have been put through the legal wringer as I have with countless delays, untold motions, legal arguments, two trials, so many trips to Jackson which I cannot afford, and my wife's tears which would fill a river, you would never, never begin to fathom the legal system.
The Power to Indict is the Power to Destroy
Now, as of this writing I am facing having to report to a federal prison facility on December 27, which happens to be our 36th wedding anniversary. This wonderful woman, whom I am lucky to have married, and I have never been separated. I am worried about her health and how she will survive. What will happen ? What will happen ?
To me, going to jail - even for something I did not do - is not the real punishment. Well, that's bad enough, but no, the real punishment, or more aptly put, torture, is seeing my wife so hurt. She does not deserve any part of the misery that has crashed over us like waters of a hurricane bashing against the shore. What am I to say to her every night to ease her pain, to shut off her tears, and to assure her all will be well ? If you have an answer, please send it to me, because I have no reassuring words to give her. I almost hesitate to hold her anymore for when I do, the tears come again and the agony starts anew.
Another innocent victim of this catastrophe is my wonderful granddaughter. We are very, very close. She is just nine years old and we have tried to keep as much of this controversy from her as we can. Do you have any idea what it is like to hide the newspaper from a child out of fear she will see your picture on the front page ? What about turning off the local TV station because your face is item number one and you don't want the child to view it. Think about calling this precious child's teachers and speaking to them about being on guard should another child make a remark about this to her.
Punishment. I have lost my career, my reputation, and security for my family. I feel as though I have been a pawn in someone's great scheme to get someone - not even me. Someone else. I feel as though I have been used and then casually discarded as some useless piece of scrap no longer of any value. When all of this first started I cooperated with the FBI. I spoke with them without an attorney several times, and I ever sat down with one of the prosecutors and stated I didn't know anything about Paul Minor's business and nothing bad about Minor. That did a lot of good. They didn't want to hear it.
Jail is nothing now. Frankly, I would rather be in jail than to have to watch another day of my wife's suffering.
Yet, there are several things that I know I will never lose. First, I know will never lose my faith in God. No matter how much is heaped on me, God will be with me always. "Hey, big guy", I pray, "I ain't no modern day Jobe. So give me a break". I also know I will never lose the love of my wife. She will continue to stand by me and believe in me. Finally, I know I will never lose the trust of my friends, my real friends - the ones who have stood by me throughout this ordeal.
Thank you God for all of your blessings.