Judge to decide who gets judicial corruption money

JACKSON — A federal judge will decide who gets $425,000 seized as part of the judicial corruption investigation that sent a noted Mississippi judge and several wealthy lawyers to prison.

The money was taken from former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters. Peters allegedly was paid $1 million on behalf of former Mississippi attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs to influence Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in a civil case.

The $425,000 is all that’s left after taxes and stock market losses, prosecutors say.

Scruggs and DeLaughter are now in federal prison along with several other disbarred attorneys and a former elected Mississippi auditor, who were all snagged in a sweeping corruption investigation. Peters cooperated with prosecutors and was not charged.

Attorney William Roberts Wilson Jr. says in court documents that he was cheated out of millions by DeLaughter and the others and has filed court documents to get the $425,000.

The government said Wilson had no proper claim to the money and sought to have his attempts to get it thrown out. A federal judge refused this past week, and set a bench trial for March 22.

DeLaughter was presiding over a lawsuit in which Wilson sued Scruggs for a bigger cut of millions in legal fees from asbestos litigation. He ruled in 2006 that Scruggs didn’t owe Wilson anything more than a belated $1.5 million payment. The ruling was contrary to the findings of a special master appointed to weigh the evidence before trial.

DeLaughter, who became nationally known as a prosecutor in 1994 when he helped put a man behind bars for the 30-year-old murder of a civil rights leader, was sentenced to 18 months for lying to the FBI about secret conversations he had with Peters. He reported to prison Jan. 4.

Scruggs, who became one of the wealthiest lawyers in the country as chief architect of the multibillion-dollar tobacco litigation of the 1990s, is serving at total of seven years for scheming to influence DeLaughter and another judge.

Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press