By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Zach Scruggs’ attorneys Friday asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear their reasons why his 2008 conviction and sentence should be thrown out.
The Oxford man’s case “is the first, or among the first” to bring to the New Orleans court issues surrounding whether a conviction should be vacated “based upon conduct that was not criminal,” in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Skilling v. U.S.
The Skilling decision vastly narrowed the U.S. honest services crimes statute only to bribery and kickbacks.
Scruggs insists he never pleaded guilty to either one of those.
Scruggs, now 37, pleaded guilty to knowing about, but not reporting, a colleague’s illegal conversations with Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City, who presided over a lawsuit against Scruggs’ father and associates.
He was sentenced to 14 months in prison, lost his law license and paid $250,000 in fines.
On Aug. 3, Senior U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers denied Scruggs’ appeal in the Northern District of Mississippi, where the case began in late 2007.
In doing so, Biggers wrote in his 44-page order that Scruggs “has not proved his actual innocence.”
Soon after his release from prison, Scruggs proclaimed he was innocent, especially in light of the Skilling decision.
His attorney father, Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs, and three others, however, pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe Lackey. They were sentenced to prison, and Dickie Scruggs is the last there.
He, too, asked the federal court to vacate a subsequent conviction and sentence, but not in the Lackey case.
Zach Scruggs’ appeal asks the 5th Circuit to consider five core legal issues.
Among them is whether to require the district court to vacate his conviction because that conduct is not longer a crime.
It also asks if the district court erred for denying his newly discovered claims that his original counsel and the government negotiated secretly behind his back to get then-Booneville attorney Joey Langston’s testimony against him and then misrepresenting to the court about that testimony.
His then-attorney, Tony Farese of Ashland, strongly denies the allegations.