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Flash Points

Mulroy’s Title X resolution and Joe Brown’s outburst might affect political outcomes. Or not.

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Two events occurred on Monday of this week that indicate the unpredictability — nay, the volatility — with which the election seasons of 2014 may be expected to proceed.

On Monday afternoon, the Shelby County Commission was in session and considering, among other matters, the question of whether the administration of county Mayor Mark Luttrell should be urged to rebid the county's existing 2011 contract with Christ Community Health Services (CCHS) to administer Title X federal funding for women's health issues.

Commissioner Steve Mulroy had proposed a resolution to that purpose. He had voted with the pro-CCHS majority in 2011 and had done so, he said then and has repeated of late, so as to attach to the contract with CCHS guarantees of high-level service.

His request for a rebid this week was based on statistics he presented casting doubt about the organization's adequate compliance.Commissioners opposing the resolution suggested, however, that his true motive had to do with propitiating pro-choice advocates of former Title X contractor Planned Parenthood in his current candidacy for county mayor.

For various reasons, many of them ad hoc rather than inevitable, the resolution was defeated. Question: Does the commissioner get credit for fighting the good fight or do his motives remain suspect, or does it even matter?

The same kinds of questions remain in the aftermath of the ruckus kicked up in Juvenile Court by former judge and TV eminence Joe Brown, who was jailed Monday for contempt of court but later released on his own recognizance.

Again, suspend for the time being your thoughts about the merits of the case: Will Brown, a candidate for District Attorney General, get votes — for himself and other Democrats — for taking on the Juvenile Court establishment? Or will he lose them by appearing to be a hothead?

Or, again, does it even matter?

On such questions — the kabuki principle, as it were — electoral outcomes may depend. Just sayin'.         

And there's this: Former state senator and convicted felon John Ford, who finally received notification late last week that the legal probation that followed his release from federal prison in August 2012 was at an end, is free to speak freely about what's on his mind now. And one thing very much on his mind is a belief that he is an innocent man who was "set up" by a predatory justice system determined to target him.

In the course of two lengthy sit-down interviews with Ford — one last October in the living room of his condominium in a gated East Memphis suburb, another at the Ruth's Chris Steak House in January — along with several telephone conversations, the former kingpin state senator, now meditating on a possible electoral comeback, confided his assorted thoughts and recollections about his fall from grace and his two felony trials of the late 1990s.

A comprehensive article on our conversations, "Waiting for Godot with John Ford," will appear in the April issue of Memphis Magazine, and another article, "John Ford's J'ACCUSE!," focusing on the legal aspects of Ford's two trials, appeared on memphisflyer.com.

Reprinted here is a seriously abridged portion of the latter, dealing with Ford's conviction for bribery in Memphis in 2007 and the prison term of four-plus years, largely served in the low-security federal facility at Yazoo City, Mississippi.

"The crime was being committed on their part," Ford says of the FBI agents who netted Ford, along with six other officials, in the "Tennessee Waltz" sting of May 2005.

"If you tried to bribe me, you would be guilty of trying to bribe me," Ford says, but he contends that the video used in evidence at his trial, which shows him taking thousands of dollars in bills from an agent posing as a legislative lobbyist, allegedly to secure Ford's help in passing a bill, was in effect edited to distort the facts.

"All they had was what they recorded on tape. You can make a video show what you want it to show," says Ford. "Where's the evidence? They're the ones making a recording. There's nothing illegal about that, about somebody counting out money and giving it to you. They give you some money and talk about something else."

Is Ford saying that the money was passed for something other than the illegal purposes the government said it was for? "That's exactly what I'm saying," is Ford's answer, but he doesn't specify what. (In a separate interview with WMC-TV reporter Kontji Anthony, Ford says he was serving as a "consultant" to the agent's pretended music business.) Ford is clearly making a case that he was framed. And what would be the motive?

Ford suggests that "Tennessee Waltz" and other governmental-corruption trials arose from the politics of the Bush-era Justice Department.

"I think for certain they targeted Democrats who had a lot of power — Democrats in particular who were black who had a lot of power." As for Republicans — and Democrats — who were conservative, "They didn't bother with them. I know a lot [of people] who should have been targeted who weren't targeted. They're still serving. They did things of their own volition, not when somebody set 'em up."

Pending the end of his probation, Ford had been reticent about going public with his accusations against the legal system.

"That's why they have probation, to keep your butt quiet for a year or two. Boom! Everybody that goes to prison — federal, county, state, whatever level — are not there because they committed a crime or because they're criminals. It's because the system wanted them there!"

And more in that vein about the bind he felt during his probation period: "You have freedom of speech, but you're limited. You say something against a judge or a prosecutor or something like that, they can get you. They can say 'boom boom' and take your freedom away.

"What you say can and will be held against you. What you say may not be pleasing to them, it'll be derogatory. They'll cop an attitude so quick. They'll try to find something. It ain't gotta be right. If the judge goes along with it, boom!

"I know it. I've seen it. You don't have to do anything that's wrong to go to prison. A lot of folks who were down there where I was, we talked. They didn't commit a crime. They hadn't done any crime. They lost their cases like I did. They couldn't out-gun the government. But I did in the end, though, didn't I?"

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