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Federal Judge Convicted in Mississippi of Perjury

February 10, 1986|Associated Press

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — A jury on Sunday found U.S. District Judge Walter L. Nixon Jr. guilty of two counts of perjury, making him the second sitting federal judge to be convicted of a crime.

Nixon was found not guilty of a third perjury count and of receiving an illegal gift.

He wept and his wife and daughters cried loudly as the verdicts were read. Nixon's lawyer said the verdict will be appealed.

Nixon, chief judge for Mississippi's southern district and on the bench since 1968, was acquitted of charges that he had accepted $60,000 worth of oil and gas interests from wealthy businessman Wiley Fairchild in exchange for the judge's help in trying to get state drug charges dropped against Fairchild's son, Drew.

But the jury, which deliberated 14 1/2 hours Saturday and Sunday, concluded that Nixon had lied twice when he testified in 1984 before a federal grand jury investigating the deal.

Defense attorney Michael Fawer said Nixon will not preside over any cases pending the appeal but will not step down.

Prosecutor Reid Weingarten said that the verdict was not cause for rejoicing. "Nobody is going to celebrate tonight in the Department of Justice with this verdict," he said. "We are satisfied this case had to be brought and justice was done."

Judge James H. Meredith set sentencing for March 31. Nixon, who faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, remains free on bond.

In his summation, Weingarten said Nixon paid only $9,500 for the oil and gas interests, describing the transaction as "nothing more than a Christmas present from Wiley Fairchild."

Fawer said the government's case had crumbled, with the government's conceding that the drug case had nothing to do with the oil and gas lease.

Drew Fairchild eventually entered guilty pleas to federal and state drug charges and served a 4 1/2-month sentence.

Two other federal judges, Alcee Hastings of Florida and Harry Claiborne of Nevada, were indicted when on the bench. Hastings was acquitted of bribery charges in 1983. Claiborne was convicted in 1984 of willfully failing to report $106,000 on his federal income tax returns.

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