By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Zach Scruggs’ conviction appeal is set for a July 9 oral-arguments hearing before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The legal case for Scruggs, 37, of Oxford, moves from a 2011 appeal denial by Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr. in Oxford.
Scruggs was indicted in November 2007 with his father, famed litigator Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs, and three others that they conspired to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City, who presided over a legal-fees lawsuit against Dickie Scruggs and others.
Their charges included what’s called honest-services bribery, which means a bribe aimed to deprive the public of an official’s honest services.
Ultimately Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misprision of a felony, in this case of not reporting that a colleague spoke illegally to Lackey about the lawsuit.
He spent 14 months in prison, lost his law license and paid a $250,000 fine for his conviction. The government insists that for Scruggs to win his appeal, he must prove actual innocence.
Scruggs insists he is innocent of any allegations that he knew about the bribery scheme.
Last May, Biggers presided over a three-day hearing of testimony on behalf of Zach Scruggs’ legal team and government prosecutors.
Biggers was not convinced and on Aug. 3 denied the appeal but then allowed the case go to the Fifth Circuit on three issues – a claim of actual innocence, that Scruggs was pressured into pleading guilty and that his original counsel leveraged Scruggs’ representation to get a deal for another client.
Scruggs’ innocence arguments rely on the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Skilling v. USA, which narrows the honest-services statute to just bribery and kickbacks.
Few cases relating to Skilling have gone up the appeal ladder, and court-watchers say the Fifth Circuit will be one of the first to tackle the legal arguments presented on Scruggs’ behalf.