ABERDEEN – When suspended Hinds Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter pleads guilty in U.S. District Court this afternoon, questions will linger about the judicial bribery indictment that cost him his reputation.
Chiefly to be answered:
– Will anyone else be indicted in this case?
– Will this second judicial bribery case in north Mississippi be the last related to DeLaughter or co-defendant and former attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs?
DeLaughter, 55, is expected to admit to U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson that he lied to FBI agents when he told them he did not speak improperly about the case Wilson v. Scruggs with his former boss, Ed Peters, the former Hinds district attorney.
The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Admissions by Scruggs, former Booneville attorney Joey Langston and others show Scruggs hired Peters for $1 million to make sure DeLaughter ruled with him in Wilson’s lawsuit over legal fees from national asbestos litigation.
Wilson claims he is owed millions, sanctions and damages for not being paid his due, as well as that Scruggs and his associates bankrolled Wilson’s fees into bigger cases with bigger returns.
His Hinds lawsuit is still alive, and he’s filed a similar federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Mississippi.
On Feb. 10 in Aberdeen, Scruggs admitted he bribed DeLaughter over the case. The pair officially were accused in a Jan. 1 indictment.
If DeLaughter’s plea ends the criminal prosecution, Wilson’s lawsuits are among the few existing cases to raise questions about who else, if anyone, had a part in the Hinds decisions under suspicion.
“As of now, we’re full steam ahead,” Wilson’s attorney, Charles Merkel of Clarksdale, said Wednesday.
Key witnesses in a DeLaughter trial set for Aug. 17 were assembled to testify: Jailed in Oxford are Scruggs, Langston and former state Auditor Steven Patterson; jailed in Monroe County is Timothy Balducci, former New Albany attorney. Either publicly or in leaked depositions, all admitted their parts in the DeLaughter case.
They all are serving prison time for guilty pleas in judicial bribery cases.
Others to be called included former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and Peters, who apparently received immunity from prosecution for his cooperation.
Lott would have been questioned about any communications with the others, especially Scruggs, his brother-in-law, about placing DeLaughter’s name on the list for federal judgeship nominations to the White House. Lott has denied he did any such thing.
Also not to be heard from is Oxford attorney Jack Dunbar, who with Peters was to testify about Peters’ intervention with DeLaughter in another Hinds County case – Eaton v. Frisby, in which DeLaughter removed Dunbar as special master.
Their testimony, court documents filed Friday say, was to establish the “modus operandi” of DeLaughter and Peters to show that their secret meetings in Wilson v. Scruggs “were neither innocent, accidental nor subsequently misunderstood.”
Wilson v. Scruggs, the federal lawsuit, was put on ice July 14 until the DeLaughter criminal case was over.
The question becomes: Will that be today?
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal