Today, key hearing set for Scruggs

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Zach Scruggs will spend his 37th birthday in a U.S. District courtroom trying to convince a judge that his 2008 conviction and sentence should be thrown out.
He’s been in worse places for a birthday observance – he spent his 35th in a federal prison camp in Arkansas.
Today, he and his attorneys will put on witnesses and evidence they insist will show he is innocent, not only of the crime to which he pleaded guilty but to the remaining counts of the original indictment brought by a federal grand jury in November 2007.
Senior U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers will preside over the hearing he granted a few months ago to hear “all the issues” relating to the case.
Last week, Biggers threw out 31⁄2 of the counts, which accused Scruggs of federal bribery.
In late 2007, Scruggs, his famous father Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and three others were indicted on federal charges they attempted to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey to order arbitration for a legal-fees lawsuit against the The Scruggs Katrina Group representing insurance cases.
Ultimately, everyone but Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty to one count and went to prison. Zach pleaded guilty to a lesser charge – knowing about but not reporting an illegal conversation with Lackey.
He served a 14-month sentence, paid a $250,000 fine and lost his law license.
In August, he told the court that a U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered earlier in 2010 and new evidence prove that his conviction and sentence should be vacated.
Prosecutors basically are telling him to prove it.
The government must employ a vastly different legal team than when it prosecuted the Lackey case.
Last week, Biggers disqualified the last of the original prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman, saying Norman failed to correct important misrepresentations to the court about what Zach Scruggs knew about a parallel judicial bribery scheme.
Scruggs insists he knew nothing about the scheme. However, in early 2008, Norman mistakenly told Biggers and others Scruggs “was fully aware” of it, a moment later described by another prosecutor as a “crushing blow” to the defense.
If Scruggs had known about the scheme, it would have meant the court could mete out a much harsher punishment.
Today, courtroom focus likely will be on issues required to throw out a conviction – chiefly if he is innocent of the original charges and did not intentionally conceal the illegal conversation.
Scruggs’ father will not be testifying, although other key players in the scandal may be called to the stand.

For updates on the hearing, visit NEMS360.com today.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.