By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – An unsealed document says Richard “Dickie” Scruggs’ 2009 guilty plea “painstakingly” avoided an admission that he bribed Hinds Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter with the promise of a federal judgeship.
The omission was intentional, the former Oxford attorney’s lawyers say, because their client “did not (and would not) plead guilty to bribery.”
In a second unsealed document, the government rejects their contentions, saying, “Clearly, there was a quid pro quo” and that Scruggs cannot prove his innocence.
Scruggs says his referral of DeLaughter to then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott was nothing more than political speech, not a crime.
Nonetheless in 2006, DeLaughter was presiding over a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Scruggs and others when his name came up for the federal bench.
This new legal push by Scruggs is aimed at convincing the court to throw out his conviction, plea and prison sentence. Extra years were tacked on to 60 months he received for a guilty plea in a scheme to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey, who presided over another lawsuit against Scruggs.
DeLaughter later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, not bribery, and went to prison.
“If the government had no bribery case against DeLaughter, then it follows as day the night that it had no bribery case” against Scruggs, his document states.
“If the quid is gone, so is the quo.”
While the government presses its legal arguments to Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson, the core of its document contains grand jury testimony by key witnesses in the Lackey and/or DeLaughter cases: former Booneville attorney Joey Langston, former New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci, former state auditor Steve Patterson and former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters.
Also included is a question-answer session, under oath, with Lott, who is Scruggs’ brother-in-law. Lott admits Scruggs asked him to contact DeLaughter, who had questions about the judicial nomination process. But he insists he was not pressured to support the choice.
Lott said he made a “courtesy call,” but gave DeLaughter little hope he could gain a nomination.
Much is already public from Langston, Balducci and Patterson, who either testified at other hearings or had bits and pieces of their grand jury testimony offered for public consumption since late 2007, when Scruggs, Balducci, Patterson and two others were indicted in the Lackey case.
But Peters’ testimony is new and of interest since he was granted immunity from prosecution. In exchange, he gave up his law license and much of the $1 million he was paid.
Langston hired Peters to assist with the lawsuit before his long-time friend “to make sure … the other side didn’t create home cooking” with another former DeLaughter colleague, Jackson attorney William Kirksey.
Oddly enough, Peters said he immediately assured Langston that bad blood existed between Kirksey and the judge, so his influence would not pose any problems for them.
In his grand jury appearance, 70-year-old Peters said Langston initially tossed $50,000 at him in an envelope, which nearly scared “the life out of me.”
He said he left the meeting expecting to be arrested. He wasn’t.
Peters also said DeLaughter never got a penny from the case but may have favored the Scruggs side primarily out of “friendship for me.” But he insists DeLaughter “would not go contrary to the law.”
When Peters was asked if he felt like DeLaughter favored Scruggs out of his respect and affection for Peters, he responded, “Absolutely. You don’t know how close I’ve come to suicide because of it.”