By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Zach Scruggs won approval to take his 2008 conviction petition to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers granted Scruggs permission to take three specific issues to the court in New Orleans:
* Scruggs’ claim he is innocent of 2007 charges.
* Whether he was pressured into pleading guilty by government claims of damaging trial testimony.
* And that his original attorney leveraged his representation of Scruggs to get a deal for another client.
Scruggs, 37, of Oxford went to prison in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to a charge of knowing about but not reporting that a colleague illegally contacted Circuit Judge Henry Lackey about a lawsuit against Scruggs and others.
Last fall, he appealed his conviction and sentence to the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi.
He cited new information he claimed proved his innocence, as well as a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which narrowed the “honest services” crime definition to bribery and kickbacks. He said he pleaded guilty to neither.
He’s asking that his conviction and sentence be thrown out.
Last May, Biggers presided over a three-day hearing for Scruggs’ attorneys and federal prosecutors to argue his appeal. In the end, Biggers denied the petition.
But Friday, he granted Scruggs’ request to allow issues to move through the federal court system.
When the Fifth Circuit will take up the appeal isn’t known.
Court observers speculate the appeal could work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, although that court makes its own decisions about what cases it considers.