By Stephen McDill
The upcoming 2011 Sundance Film Festival will feature a familiar face in Mississippi politics.
Former state Supreme Court justice Oliver Diaz will be included in the documentary “Hot Coffee.” The film, a behind-the-scenes look at tort law and the civil justice system, is set to screen Jan. 24 at the Utah film festival.
Produced and directed by civil justice veteran Susan Saladoff, the film tells the story of Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old New Mexico resident who suffered third-degree burns from spilled coffee in a McDonald’s drive-thru. Liebeck’s lawsuit against the fast-food giant gained the housewife $2.9 million in settlement money, international headlines and the ire of many who saw the case as frivolous and excessive.
Saladoff will also take a look at the case of Diaz and the Gulf Coast attorney’s alleged political targeting by GOP and Bush White House operatives: a story fictionalized in John Grisham’s book, “The Appeal”, according to the movie’s promotional website.
The documentary includes interviews with Grisham as well as with Diaz, his ex-wife Jennifer Diaz and Jackson attorney Chuck McRae, also a former state Supreme Court justice.
The film’s website provides its summary: “When big business interests couldn’t beat Justice Oliver Diaz in his re-election to the Mississippi Supreme Court, despite millions of dollars spent on advertising, they found a way to have him criminally prosecuted on false charges, tainting his reputation and causing political hardship for years to come.”
Diaz pleaded “absolutely not guilty” to bribery charges and was acquitted in 2003, while notable tort lawyer Paul Minor was convicted and sent to federal prison. Diaz lost a re-election bid to his state post in 2008.