By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Zach Scruggs’ 2008 conviction and prison sentence will stand, Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers says.
The case likely goes to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers such cases afresh.
Scruggs, 37, of Oxford last summer asked the Oxford-based federal court to vacate his conviction and sentence. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to knowing about but failing to report a colleague’s illegal conversation with Circuit Judge Henry Lackey, who presided over a legal-fees lawsuit against Scruggs and others.
For his appeal, he cited new evidence and a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that he said proved his innocence.
To succeed, Scruggs had to prove it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have voted to convict him, not just of the charges he pleaded guilty to, but to an original six-count indictment charging conspiracy.
Biggers issued a 44-page opinion with the denial order.
In it, he said “a reasonable juror” could choose to believe a range of evidence pointing to Scruggs’ guilt.
“He has not proved his actual innocence,” Biggers wrote.
Edward D. Robertson Jr., Scruggs’ lead attorney, said they “are studying the judge’s ruling and will determine whether there are reasons to appeal.”
In November 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Scruggs, his famous attorney father Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, law partner Sidney Backstrom, New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci and his partner, former state auditor Steven Patterson on multiple counts alleging they conspired to bribe Lackey in exchange for sending to arbitration the legal-fees lawsuit, Jones v. Scruggs.
Zach Scruggs contends he never knew anything about a bribe.
The other defendants worked out deals to plead guilty to just one count and went to prison. Only Dickie Scruggs remains behind bars with time added for a guilty plea in an alleged scheme to improperly influence another judge in another legal-fees case.
In Thursday’s opinion, Biggers also rejected Scruggs’ contention that his original attorney, Tony Farese of Ashland, breached ethical standards by also representing then-Booneville attorney Joey Langston. Langston was Dickie Scruggs’ first lawyer in the case and soon pleaded guilty to his part in the other judicial-influence case.