OXFORD – U.S. prosecutors say former Oxford attorney Zach Scruggs is guilty in the 2007 bribery scheme that rocked Mississippi’s legal community.
And Tuesday, they asked the U.S. District Court to uphold his conviction to a lesser crime associated with it.
Scruggs, 36, asked the court in August to vacate his sentence from a guilty plea to knowing about an illegal conversation with the presiding judge in a legal-fees lawsuit against his father, Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, and others.
He claimed his plea came under duress and that new evidence shows he is innocent.
Tuesday, acting U.S. Attorney William Martin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman rejected his claims in a 17-page response.
“The record is more than sufficient to show that he is not ‘actually innocent,’” they write.
The case brought down Dickie Scruggs, one of America’s most famous lawyers, with their law partner, Sidney Backstrom, New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci and his associate, former state auditor Steven Patterson.
They sought to influence Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City to send the lawsuit, Jones v. Scruggs, to arbitration. For that decision, Balducci delivered $40,000 to Lackey, who was working undercover for the FBI.
Zach Scruggs spent 14 months in prison for his guilty plea.
Prosecutors say he wants to regain his legal career, which he lost with his plea.
“That’s not in the cards,” said Scruggs’ attorney, Edward “Chip” Robertson, later Tuesday. “Zach said he’s not interested in practicing law again.”
Robertson said the new motion concedes virtually every aspect of his client’s appeal.
“All that’s left is whether Zach actually knew about a bribe or if they could have convicted him on that,” he noted.
Scruggs’ motion is based on a new U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrows the “honest services” statute to just bribery or kickbacks.
Since his plea had nothing to do with either, he says, his conviction should be tossed.
In Tuesday’s document, prosecutors say he and Backstrom failed polygraphs on the question of whether Zach Scruggs knew anything about money changing hands.
Robertson said he’s surprised they breached a confidentiality agreement about the polygraph, saying its results aren’t reliable or admissible as evidence.
Prosecutors also insist Scruggs’ first attorney in the case, Anthony Farese of Ashland, did not have a conflict of interest as he represented then-Booneville attorney Joey Langston in a related corruption case.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal