By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ORLEANS – Former Oxford litigator Richard “Dickie” Scruggs could return to prison if the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejects his efforts to have a 2009 conviction overturned.
Scruggs’ attorney Edward “Chip” Robertson Jr. addressed a three-judge panel Monday morning and told them that while his client’s behavior to court favor with then-Hinds Judge Bobby DeLaughter was extremely unethical, it did not meet the legal bribery standards of “quid pro quo,” the phrase which means “something for something.”
At issue in this case is whether it was bribery when Scruggs told a DeLaughter friend to tell the circuit judge Scruggs would suggest his name to his brother-in-law, then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, who could pass it along to the White House for a federal judgeship.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman of Oxford told the panel that suggestion was precisely the “something of value” required to legally make up a federal bribery charge.
Scruggs, 66, and his wife, Diane, were in the downtown New Orleans courtroom. He looked fit and completely recovered from hand surgery for a condition that caused his right hand to draw up.
He is free on bond awaiting the outcome of this appeal. Last December, he completed a five-year sentence in the 2007 bribery scheme aimed at Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.
Lackey and DeLaughter presided over insurance case legal-fees lawsuits against Scruggs and others.
Chief Judge Charles Stewart asked Robertson why Scruggs did not directly appeal the conviction, instead relying on a law change brought on by the U.S. Supreme Court in the USA v. Skilling case.
Stewart seemed skeptical when Robertson told him Scruggs’ legal team feared they’d just be accused of filing frivolously, but Stewart insisted it was done all the time just to preserve an appeal record.
Robertson insisted that because Scruggs’ legal accusation did not specifically state the crime for which he was accused, it was wrongly before federal court.
Norman argued against that position, saying their documents – while perhaps not “artfully” crafted by him – were sufficient for the task.
Robertson also argued that the federal judgeship suggestion was merely protected political speech and not a crime. The alleged “secret access” to DeLaughter began six months before Lott made his courtesy call, Robertson noted.
“We have to be very careful to make sure … that it is tied very tightly to the act. You know, people make phone calls,” he said.
Norman told the panel that while Lott may not have made his call to DeLaughter with any serious considerations, the judge took it that way.
“He didn’t tell Bobby DeLaughter he was just joking because Bobby DeLaughter wrote a letter the next day to the senator, thanking him and gushing about how honored he was to be considered,” Norman noted.
It created in the judge’s mind “exactly what defense wanted … it made him feel it was his last best chance to become a federal judge.”