As I’ve written here before, the most important election next week in Mississippi may be the race for state’s Supreme Court justice from the Gulf Coast area (Mississippi Supreme Court justices are elected to 8-year terms).
The incumbent, Oliver Diaz Jr., is the only justice on the state’s highest court who has gone on record stating that former Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne ought to be barred from testifying in the state’s courts. He’s also one of maybe just two justices on the court who seem to recognize that there are some fundamental problems with Mississippi’s criminal justice system.
Two weeks ago, a Springfield, Virginia organization called the Law Enforcement Alliance of America began running a scurrilous, false attack ad saying Diaz "voted for" two "baby killers" and a "man executed for beating a woman to death."
Diaz wasn’t even on the court when one of those cases was decided. In another, he eventually voted to uphold the conviction and death sentence of an accused murderer—he merely voted to delay the execution until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its own opinion on the constitutionality of the lethal injection.
The third case LEAA mentions in its ad is most aggravating. It’s the case of Jeffrey Havard, which I’ve written about here on several occasions. Havard was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s daughter based almost entirely on the testimony of discredited medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne. Other, far more reputable forensic pathologists have since cast serious doubt on Hayne’s testimony in that case. Diaz should be commended for his votes in Havard’s appeal. Because Havard deserves a new trial.
In a state where there have been four exonerations in the last 18 months (including two men wrongly convicted of being "baby killers"), and where mounting, troubling questions about the state’s death investigation system suggest there are likely to be many more, LEAA’s attack on Diaz is disgraceful—in addition to being out-and-out false.
Comcast agreed to stop running the ad after Mississippi’s Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention found that it violates the Code of Judicial Conduct. But the damage may already be done. The ads have been running for two weeks.