By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A statement from ex-judge Bobby DeLaughter will tell the U.S. District Court that former Oxford attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs never sought to bribe him, a defense attorney said Tuesday after a hearing to set aside Scruggs’ 2009 conviction.
Former Attorney General Mike Moore, one of Scruggs’ lawyers, said DeLaughter, who refused to plead guilty to a bribery indictment, will say that longtime friend Ed Peters asked for Scruggs’ help to win DeLaughter a federal judgeship, but that DeLaughter saw it as no different from anyone else who agreed to assist his quest.
“I think we nailed them today,” Moore said after the two-day hearing in Oxford, which sought to convince Senior Judge Glen Davidson that 65-year-old Scruggs is innocent of a charge he pleaded guilty to – as prosecutors state – of “dangling” the hope of a judgeship in front of DeLaughter in exchange for favorable rulings in a lawsuit against him.
Testimony across the two days showed that Peters asked for Scruggs’ help to his brother-in-law Sen. Trent Lott, who with Sen. Thad Cochran provided such nominations to the president.
Former Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who conveyed Peters’ request to Scruggs, said that as parties to a lawsuit before DeLaughter – Wilson v. Scruggs – they were in a three-way quandry to deal with the request – to say no, to do nothing or say they’d help.
The first two choices wouldn’t help their case at all, while the third might, Langston said.
“We felt like if we said no to his request, that would hurt. If we did nothing, it would hurt,” he explained. “But if we said we would support him, that would help with good will, help Peters argue our points of law.”
Langston, who pleaded guilty in early 2008 to conspiring to bribe DeLaughter, tred a tight-rope on questions from the government, which could charge him with perjury if he said something different from earlier sworn statements.
He also admitted that he should have stopped the illegal conversations between Peters and DeLaughter when he first realized what was happening.
In the end, lead attorney Edward “Chip” Robertson Jr. said they will submit DeLaughter’s statement, or proffer, to Davidson with any other submissions they believe will help him arrive at a decision. The government will do the same.
Davidson gave them 14 days to make their submissions.
Scruggs must prove “actual innocence” for the court to set aside the conviction, which added time to a five-year sentence for his guilty plea in the 2007 scheme to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City, who presided over another lawsuit against Scruggs.
The key character in that drama, former New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci, testified for the government Tuesday, but was hard-pressed to recollect some events or things he said about events that occurred with the Wilson v. Scruggs case some six years ago.
“I’m trying to put this behind me,” he told Robertson. “I don’t think about this every day.”
He said he realized that their hiring of Peters was to get illegal access to DeLaughter and learn what they should do to win the lawsuit.