Oliver Diaz, Jr.

In Mississippi, state supreme court justices are elected, not appointed. They serve eight-year terms, but can serve multiple terms if they're reelected. Yesterday Associate Justice Oliver Diaz, Jr. announced his plans to run for reelection.

Diaz may face a tough campaign, due in part to the fact that he's one of the more liberal justices on the court. He's also the only justice on the court who seems to give a damn about the sham that is Mississippi's criminal justice system. Diaz was instrumental in building a coalition to throw out Dr. Steven Hayne's absurd two-hands-on-the-gun testimony in the Tyler Edmonds case. My sources in Mississippi tell me the court initially was planning to uphold Hayne's testimony and Edmonds' conviction. Diaz not only succeeded in turning that around for a 8-1 vote for a new trial, he wrote a blistering concurring opinion stating that Dr. Hayne should never testify in Mississippi's courts again (disclosure: he cited my reason article on the Cory Maye case in that opinion). Unfortunately, Diaz wasn't able to convince a majority of his colleagues of his opinion of Dr. Hayne, and so Hayne continues to do the bulk of the state's autopsies.

The other reason Diaz may face an uphill battle for reelection is because several years ago, he was indicted by the Bush Justice Department on public corruption charges. Diaz, a former Republican now backed by Democrats, maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal, refused to plea or resign his seat on the court, and was eventually acquitted on all charges. The Bush Justice Department then indicted him again. And he was acquitted again. His case is now being investigated by Congress to see if it was one of a series of overtly political and questionably meritorious prosecutions of Democratic public officials led by Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys (other prosecutions under investigation include those against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and Pennsylvania medical examiner Cyril Wecht).

One other thing: The federal charges against Diaz stemmed from his relationship with Paul Minor, a plaintiff's attorney in Mississippi who got rich off the tobacco settlement. As Harper's Scott Horton points out, the case against Diaz, Minor, and others was part of a GOP backlash in Mississippi against the rise and enormous influence of trial lawyers in that state. But interestingly, while Diaz is often painted as a friend of the plaintiff's bar, it's worth noting that Dr. Hayne is also a favorite of trial lawyers in Mississippi. Part of Hayne's success stems from the fact that he has managed to win over both the state's prosecutors and the state's trial lawyers (and the county coroners, who often go out of their way to please both). Talk to any medical malpractice defense attorney in Mississippi, for example, and they'll rant about Hayne's absurd testimony in various tort cases for a good ten minutes (I'll have more on this next week).

Diaz's blistering opinion singling out Hayne in the Edmonds case, then, was actually a blow to the state's trial lawyers—the very group for whom the feds and the state's GOP accuse of Diaz of being a shill.  His continued presence on the court is important to keep the pressure on the state to do something about Hayne.

It would be unfortunate if South Mississippi's voters were to take Diaz off the bench due to what looks like an overtly political federal prosecution. Right now, at least on criminal justice issues, he's the only justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court who seems to even realize Mississippi has a problem.

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  • ||

    "He's also the only justice on the court who seems to give a damn about the sham that is Mississippi's criminal justice system." So he'll be denounced as a soft-on-crime liberal and probably lose to some conservative promising to be tougher on those "criminals" (by which he means "those accused of crimes" which for many a conservative is the same thing). This is Mississippi after all, a state with a criminal justice system that is one of the best of the century. Too bad that century is 18th century...

  • Edward||

    Don't knock Mississippi; it was home to many who contributed to Ron Paul's political career through subsrciptions to his newsletter and is therefore objectively a great bastion of libertarianism.

  • ||

    Another Sunday. Another Balko post. Another reason to get discouraged about "justice" in America.

    The evidence that the Bush administration has suborned the Justice department, morphing it into the persecutoriol arm of the GOP neocon wing continues to pile up. I would love to see this become an issue in the presedential campaign. I want prosecutions for malfeasance in office for Bush DOJ appointees. Should such a just turn of events occur, I'll be laughing as the GOP fanboys hypocritically bitch about "politically motivated prosecutions".

  • Naga Sadow||

    Sorry Mr. Nice Guy, that particular spot belongs to Napoleonic law-following Louisiana. The only state I know that has drive-thru daquiri stores AND an open container law.

  • thoreau||

    Radley-

    I'm impressed with the work you do. Do you feel safe when you travel to Mississippi? I assume you have angered quite a few people there....

    If I were you, I'd be afraid to travel in Mississippi without a camera crew filming my every move and streaming it to a satellite or wireless connection.

  • MK2||

    Thoreau,

    You're kind of stuck in a 1960s time warp. In the '60s it was left-wing civil rights workers who put their lives on the line traveling to the deep South. These days they aren't dredging the swamps for civil rights workers anymore much less for right-wing libertarian sophists who will defend (though prhaps not to the death) your right to refuse service to anybody you well please.

  • Radley Balko||

    Hey Edward/MK2:

    Posting under multiple names isn't going to make anyone think there's more support for your positions than there actually is.

    You might try spoofing your IP address next time, too.

    To answer the question, though, no I've never felt unsafe in Mississippi.

  • Mad Max||

    "1960s time warp."

    Maybe you could claim this if Balko was trying to single out the South, but he's complaining about abuses throughout the country. To be sure, Mississippi scandals have a certain "colorful" quality, but that doesn't mean that prosecutors haven't majorly abused their power (including expert witnesses) in other states.

    For instance, I've heard of this unethical prosecutor who demagogued his way to the Governor's mansion, only to get caught with a hooker. What state do you think *that* happened in?

  • Jorgen||

    Would the reelect Diaz campaign be something we'd all like to contribute money to? In terms of making peoples' lives more free, it seems like effort spent keeping this guy where he is could go a lot farther than money to a presidential race or the like.

  • MK2/Edward||

    Are we required to use just one name? In any case, it would surely take more than two names to create the illusion that my positions have much support here in the echo chamber.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Did MK2/Edward really refer to himself as "we"?

    *shudders at the creepiness of that revelation*

  • Naga Sadow||

    Thanks Radley and Mad Max,

    As a resident of Mississippi, thanks for being civil and not bashing my state. Now that I have that out of the way . . . as soon as I have my economics degree in two years I'm outta this shithole. I have my eye on Florida or California. Not sure which one at this point in time.

  • Taktix®||

    You might try spoofing your IP address next time, too.

    Pwned!

  • Taktix®||

    Naga Sadow,

    We could use someone with an economics degree in Florida. You'd be one of about seven.

    Marijuana possession laws suck here, though...

  • ||

    "Sorry Mr. Nice Guy, that particular spot belongs to Napoleonic law-following Louisiana. The only state I know that has drive-thru daquiri stores AND an open container law."
    I'm from there, and the drive-thru daquri stand is one of our great institutions; they get around the open-container law by saying that as long as the lid of the cup doesn't have a straw through it, it's a closed container.
    And let's not bag too hard on Miss., when it's acceptable in "cosmopolitan" NYC for cops to shoot an unarmed black man 50 times and get away with it (how much more coverage would've that story gotten if it happened south of the mason-dixon?)

  • MK2/Edward||

    Edward

    I gave Balko high marks for throwing Ron Paul under the bus after the newsletter revelations. What do you think of him?

    MK2

    Edward,

    I think Balko's middle name is "Confirmation Bias."

    MK2

  • ||

    A couple of tv ads directed at the right demographic could win this thing. How much could advertising time really cost in south Mississippi? Unless he's running against real money, he should be able to win this thing as an incumbent.

  • Cari Barichello||

    Thank goodness Diaz stepped up to the plate before more innocent adults AND CHILDREN end up in prison due to Dr. Haynes.

    Forrest Allgood is Haynes side kick and should be dis-barred for pushing innocent children into cells. Seems to me that since all this controversy about Hayne has FINALLY been recognized, Allgood has been quite wishy-washy about Haynes and his testimonies. One day he claims Haynes is qualified and is credible, next day he claims he had just no idea Haynes was persay "sugar coating" testimony for a fair price.

    Come on now......am I correct in my reading Radley?

  • ||

    Cari is correct, but I would add (ad nauseum, perhaps) a repeat of my comment. Allgood sought to destroy the life of a 13 year old boy (Tyler Edmonds) with an unfair prosecution based on a coerced confession and the unscientific testimony of Haynes, for sure. However this miscarriage of justice could never have taken place were it not for the ONE person any criminal defendant (even a child) should be able to depend on for fairness; the trial court judge. The judge in Tyler Edmond's case, James Kitchens (a former employee of Forrest Allgood) was anything but fair. His unbalanced rulings, rude treatment of defense counsel representing a child, support of the prosecutions totally unreasonable ADULT charge against this child and his general cruelty and apparent hatred of Tyler ('cause he didnt like Tyler's lawyer) are the key reasons why Tyler was originally convicted.

    By all means go after Allgood and Haynes, but it is Kitchens who should bear the brunt of the criticism. God willing, there will come a time when Kitchens is sweeping courtroom floors instead of presiding over them. He ought to be charged with child abuse for his terrible judgement and cruel treatment of a child defendant.

  • ||

    Tyler is doing great. His second trial is set for Oct. 27. The judge has been good to him so far. Tyler is as innocent as the sky is blue. Meanwhile, Hayne is up on an ethical review to have his license revoked thanks to the Innocence Project and Allgood has truly been very wishy washy in the press. I'm expecting Tyler to walk home from court if a trial is even held since he'll have been out for a year and a half at least by the time his second trial rolls around. Diaz needs to be exalted as a REAL leader for helping Tyler as he did. That was a very bold move and a great one and a lot of good things have happened since, including the publicity for Hayne and 2 DNA exonerations. Diaz made it through 2 rounds of Bush persecutions, and I have a good feeling about him remaining on the court. I can't wait for more news on Hayne...it will only help Diaz (and Tyler and all the others whose cases haven't come up for review yet).

  • ||

    a series of overtly political and questionably meritorious prosecutions of Democratic public officials led by Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys (other prosecutions under investigation include those against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and Pennsylvania medical examiner Cyril Wecht).

    Of course, lead prosecutors on the Don Siegelman case were not Bush-appointed, and I know one was a lead prosecutor in the conviction of former Republican Governor Guy Hunt for corruption. Of course, Republicans at the time said that prosecution of Guy Hunt was political too, don't you know. It was 1992, first Republican governor since Reconstruction, yada yada yada. But it used to be that Republicans were accusing Prosecutor Feaga of political bias on behalf of Attorney General Jimmy Evans of Alabama.

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