Judge to hold conference on USF&G lawsuit

JACKSON — A federal judge plans to talk with attorneys this month about how to move forward with a seven-year-old lawsuit linked to a corruption case that sent one of Mississippi’s most prominent lawyers and two former judges to prison.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate has scheduled a status conference in the case for Sept. 23.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, USF&G Insurance Co., asked for the conference, saying the litigation has been on hold since December 2010 because of the criminal case against former attorney Paul Minor and former Harrison County Chancery Judge Wes Teel.

In June, Judge Wingate resentenced the men because an appeals court had tossed some of their convictions. Wingate reduced Teel’s sentence from 70 months to 51 months. Teel, 60, was released from prison last Tuesday.

Minor, 65, and former Harrison County Circuit Judge John Whitfield, 49, had their sentences reduced, too, but they remain in prison. Whitfield is not a party in the USF&G lawsuit.

In asking for the status conference, USF&G said the criminal matters have been taken care of and the civil lawsuit should move forward.

“Plaintiff respectfully requests an order confirming that there is no stay preventing discovery from being conducted,” USF&G wrote in a court filing in August. “Alternatively, Plaintiff requests that this Court conduct a status conference as quickly as possible.”

The criminal case and the lawsuit have been intertwined at times and the allegations are similar in both. Minor submitted motions in the criminal case to get reams of documents from USF&G. He has claimed a USF&G lawyer committed perjury during his trial.

Prosecutors said Minor went to banks and guaranteed loans for Teel and Whitfield, then used cash and third parties to pay off the debts himself. The judges allegedly ruled in his favor in civil cases.

One of those allegedly corrupted cases was a 2001 lawsuit between USF&G and Peoples Bank. Minor was the lawyer for Peoples Bank. Teel was the judge. USF&G settled for $1.5 million.

Then in 2003, Minor, Teel and others were indicted on corruption charges. USF&G sued Minor, Teel and Peoples Bank, claiming they “fraudulently obtained” the $1.5 million settlement.

USF&G’s lawsuit claims Teel’s rulings favored the bank because he was corrupted by Minor. Minor had personally guaranteed a loan for Teel from Peoples Bank and secretly paid off the debt, the lawsuit said.

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