Legal sides weigh in to judge in Dickie Scruggs' appeal

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Richard “Dickie” Scruggs re-established his guilt in an alleged scheme to bribe Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, federal prosecutors tell the court as Scruggs seeks to have his 2009 conviction overturned.
Scruggs, 65, of Oxford, pleaded guilty to seeking to improperly influence DeLaughter, who presided over a legal-fees lawsuit against Scruggs and others.
The plea added time to a sentence he already was serving for a conviction in the 2007 judicial bribery case aimed at Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.
The government insists he “tempted” DeLaughter’s ambition to become a federal judge by agreeing to ask his brother-in-law, then-Sen. Trent Lott, to speak with DeLaughter about the process.
“Even if Senator Lott never intended to make DeLaughter a federal judge,” said the prosecutors’ brief filed late Wednesday, “it is not the senator’s intention that is relevant. What is important is the recipient’s state of mind.”
U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson presided over a two-day hearing recently to hear testimony in response to Scruggs’ motion that his conviction be vacated.
At the end of the hearing, Davidson asked both sides to submit legal reports, called briefs, about the facts and the law in the case.
Scruggs insists that in the wake of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the crime to which he pleaded guilty no longer exists.
He also insists that his agreement to help DeLaughter, made at the behest of DeLaughter’s friend Ed Peters, was nothing more than political speech, not a bribe.
A key issue is whether the case is governed by a Supreme Court decision which requires proof of actual innocence on all the charges for which the petitioner was indicted.
For his conviction to be overturned, the government states, Scruggs must show that not one juror would have convicted him on those charges.
Scruggs’ legal team states that a reasonable juror would not find him guilty of traditional bribery in violation of the honest services law.
They maintain that the “actual innocence” requirement does not apply because he pleaded guilty to a non-bribe honest services fraud, which “is not and never was a crime.”
But if it were to apply, his lawyers say, he must show actual innocence only of “more serious” foregone crimes. In this case, they say, no other charges are more serious.
They go to great length to convince Davidson that there was no quid pro quo, a legal phrase meaning something for something, with DeLaughter.
In this case, they say Scruggs gained secret access to DeLaughter through Peters months before any federal judgeship opened in the Southern District of Mississippi.
They also stress that virtually all DeLaughter’s rulings in the lawsuit were consistent with a 2002 decision and that Lott told DeLaughter that he, Lott, was not considering him for a judgeship.
When Davidson will decide the issues is up to Davidson.
Legal-watchers in this case say that either way it goes, the losing side will appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com