‘Most tragic’: Fifth Circuit denies rehearing in Mark Mayfield case

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WLBT) – The family of a popular Madison attorney who they say was arrested in retaliation for his political activities won’t get a rehearing, following a ruling by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an 11-3 vote, the court ruled that they would not grant a hearing to the estate of Mark Mayfield, an attorney who was arrested in 2014 for his alleged involvement in a scheme by State Sen. Chris McDaniel supporters to photograph his opponent’s bedridden wife at a nursing home.

At the time, McDaniel was running against U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a hotly contested Republican primary race.

Following Mayfield’s arrest, court records indicate he lost clients, was subject to media scrutiny, and was forced to stop his political activities in support of McDaniel and the Tea Party.

Three days after McDaniel lost in the Republican runoff, Mayfield committed suicide.

Mayfield’s family later filed suit against the city of Madison, its mayor, police chief, and others, saying the late attorney was arrested and charged in retaliation for his support for McDaniel.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the case. The Fifth Circuit upheld that decision this summer, saying the city did not target Mayfield for his political activities. The request for a rehearing was denied this week.

Mark Mayfield
Mark Mayfield(Special to WLBT)

However, the decision wasn’t unanimous, with three judges voting in favor of a rehearing: James Ho, Jennifer Elrod, and Jerry Smith. Ho was joined by Smith in writing a dissenting opinion.

Ho wrote the Mayfield case is the “most tragic” case of government officials “abusing our criminal justice system to punish political adversaries.”

“Plaintiffs present serious allegations that defendants abused the criminal justice system to destroy the livelihood and life of a citizen for opposing an incumbent U.S. Senator… and that their misuse of government power drove him to suicide,” he continued. “These allegations should’ve been sufficient to state a First Amendment retaliation claim.”

According to court records, McDaniel supporters wanted to get a photograph of Rose Cochran, the bedridden wife of the late U.S. Sen. Cochran, to support allegations of Cochran’s infidelity.

A video including the photograph was posted on social media but was quickly taken down after a backlash even from McDaniel supporters.

Court records state that Mayfield did not take the photograph but allegedly told others how to find Cochran’s room, which was at St. Catherine’s Village.

He had access to that information because Mayfield’s mother had been a resident there prior to passing away.

“Perhaps he shouldn’t have provided the information he was asked,” Ho wrote. “But did he deserve to be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned? Did he deserve to be humiliated, even driven to suicide – and his family destroyed?”

“It’s unfathomable that law enforcement officials would’ve devoted scarce police resources to pursuing Mayfield, but for one thing: the people in power disliked his political views.”

Ho went on to say that court records supported claims that Mayfield’s arrest was political, including statements made by two former prosecutors, including one who claimed city officials “boasted” about their efforts going after Cochran’s opponents.

“Deploying the criminal justice system to target one’s political opponents violates the First Amendment,” Ho wrote. “So, this case should have gone to trial.”

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