Scruggs beefs up legal team ahead of appeal hearing

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Former Oxford attorney Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs is back in Lafayette County to help prepare for his 2009 conviction appeal.
Scruggs, 65, arrived in Oxford last week and is housed at the Lafayette County Detention Center near the U.S. District Courthouse, where Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson will hear arguments in the case beginning March 26.
Friday, Scruggs’ already all-star legal team was bolstered by Charles Issacharoff, a constitutional law specialist at New York University School of Law and former professor at Harvard, Columbia and University of Texas law schools.
Issacharoff, a Yale Law School graduate, has written extensively about the law of the political process and democracy.
Scruggs was one of the country’s most famous plaintiffs’ attorneys in 2007 when he was indicted with four others on federal charges they conspired to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City. Lackey presided over a lawsuit against Scruggs and others.
In spring 2008, Scruggs and three of the co-defendants each pleaded guilty to one count and went to prison.
A year later, Scruggs also pleaded guilty to improperly influencing then-Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter of Hinds County, who presided over another lawsuit against Scruggs.
DeLaughter pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with longtime friend Jackson attorney Ed Peters, whom Scruggs hired through then-Booneville attorney Joey Langston, they insist, to be their local contact on the case.
This is the conviction Scruggs will appeal to Davidson, saying his suggestion through Langston to Peters that he would recommend DeLaughter for a federal judgeship was not a crime but protected political speech and that DeLaughter was not influenced about the lawsuit because of Scruggs’ mention. Prosecutors take the opposite positions.
As for the hearing, which could extend for several days, testimony is anticipated from Langston, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and former state auditor Steve Patterson.
Lott, Scruggs’ brother-in-law, insists his contact with DeLaughter was merely a “courtesy call” and DeLaughter never was a serious candidate for the judgeship.
Other possible witnesses include DeLaughter, Jackson attorney William Kirksey, Peters and Scruggs.
Scruggs continues to serve his two prison terms in a Montgomery, Ala., facility.
The law demands that Scruggs’ attorneys prove “actual innocence” on the original indictment charges.
In light of 2010 appeals court decisions in two other cases, they say, neither hiring Peters nor the Lott recommendation constitutes bribery and was not an “honest services” violation.
In a U.S. Supreme Court brief, Issacharoff and a colleague wrote that Scruggs pleaded guilty to a nonexistent crime.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com