By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Two legal documents, now on file with the U.S. District Court, wrap up arguments before Senior Judge Neal Biggers as he considers whether to vacate Zach Scruggs’ 2008 sentence and conviction.
Scruggs, 37, of Oxford pleaded guilty to knowing about but not reporting that a colleague had an illegal conversation with Judge Henry Lackey about a case before him.
The government will have one more week to respond to Scruggs’ 70-plus page document filed Wednesday.
Scruggs’ 2007 indictment accused him of conspiring to deprive the public of Lackey’s honest services through a $40,000 bribe Lackey asked for, working undercover for the government, to send the lawsuit Jones v. Scruggs to arbitration.
His father, a law partner and two others pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and went to prison. Scruggs served prison time for his guilty plea to what’s called misprision of a felony.
Scruggs’ document also accuses the government of prosecutorial misconduct, from admitting it created the bribery scheme to perpetuating false testimony.
“The government cannot be heard to say that there was no prejudice,” his filing notes.
The documents come after a three-day hearing last month about Scruggs’ appeal.
Biggers’ decision is likely to set U.S. legal precedent because so few appeals like this have been heard. Court observers predict Scruggs’ appeal will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last summer, the nation’s highest court drastically narrowed its definition of an “honest services” crime to bribery and kickback schemes.
In its motion to dismiss, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford insists Scruggs failed to prove that he was innocent of the original charges. Prosecutors say Scruggs’ crime was participation in a scheme involving wire fraud to deprive Jones of his property rights in the lawsuit.
They also insist that Scruggs knew about the bribery of Lackey, or even if he didn’t, he was sufficiently involved in the scheme to be convicted as a conspirator. They deny that false information they provided to the court did not push Scruggs to plead guilty instead of going to trial.
In Scruggs’ response, his attorneys challenge every government assertion, repeatedly stating he never knew about a bribe and was no conspirator.
But they go farther, especially to discredit the government star witness – Timothy Balducci – whom they say lied at least six times under oath about events in the case.
They also repeat allegations of disloyalty and conflict of interest against Ashland attorney Tony Farese’s simultaneously representation of Scruggs and Joey Langston of Booneville, who came into the government’s cross hairs soon after the Scruggs indictments.
At least two former prosecutors say Langston’s cooperation and potential testimony against the Scruggses “broke” their defense and forced guilty pleas.
Farese maintains he had no conflict in representing the two men.
A Mississippi Bar complaint by Scruggs against Farese was dismissed without a hearing.