By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Legal documents in court cases sometimes tell you or suggest to you more about what’s going on than is readily apparent.
Take, for example, the recent federal court filings in Zach Scruggs’ efforts to get his 2008 conviction and prison sentence vacated.
Since last summer, he has insisted he has new evidence that will prove him innocent in the 2007 judicial bribery scandal that rocked Mississippi’s legal community.
The case is well remembered as Jones v. Scruggs, in which a Jackson attorney sued Zach’s father, Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, and others over legal fees the attorney felt he was owed from Katrina-related insurance cases.
The Scruggses, Timothy Balducci, Steven Patterson and Sidney Backstrom were indicted on charges they conspired to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey to send this lawsuit to arbitration. Ultimately, those charges were dropped against Zach but he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of knowing about an illegal conversation with the judge.
The others pleaded guilty and went to prison. They’ve all done their time, except the elder Scruggs, who is still in a federal prison in Kentucky.
Senior U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. set an April 25 hearing on “all issues” to be raised about Zach Scruggs’ claims.
Friday, Scruggs presented the court with a request to interview, under oath, key players in the scandal. He says they can provide new information to the court.
Because the Scruggses and their co-defendants never went to trial, the public never heard from most witnesses.
And some of the information Scruggs says these people can provide was not known or did not exist until recently.
Most of them, he says, can provide testimony that will impeach what the government told the court in some instances.
Specifically, here’s what he says they will say:
• Sidney Backstrom – his former law partner in Oxford, now living in Texas. He “will put speculation to rest” that Zach ever knew about the alleged bribery scheme or if there was such a scheme. He also would be expected to testify about certain conversations and e-mails, which key prosecution witness Balducci lied about, the document notes.
• Richard Scruggs – the primary defendant in the case. He is in the “best position,” the motion reads, to say who created the alleged scheme, if Zach ever was told about it and whether Zach knew about payments to Balducci.
• Steven Patterson – former state auditor and Balducci’s partner, who reportedly has knowledge about the legitimacy of work Balducci was hired to do for the Scruggses related to the Katrina cases.
• Timothy Balducci – then a New Albany attorney with dreams of building a mega-legal-lobbying firm with Patterson. He’s the government’s star witness whom Scruggs was never allowed to question in the criminal proceedings. The main questions for Balducci revolve around his statements that the Scruggs defendants did not know and never would know about his bribery plan. Scruggs predicts Balducci will say he lied to the grand jury about him, what his coded language meant during conversations with other players in the story and whether his Katrina work was the sham the government claims.
• Henry Lackey – the case’s presiding judge, who asked Balducci for money at the direction of the government. Scruggs wants to know who first conceived of the bribe and whether Balducci ever implicated anyone else in a bribe.
• William Dulaney – FBI special agent in charge of the Lackey investigation, whom Scruggs describes as part of the group that came up with the bribery scheme and later pressured Lackey to demand one. The motion also claims he “can resolve the mystery” of missing conversations and documents about those conversations.
• Joseph Langston – then of Booneville and one of the state’s most prominent plaintiffs’ lawyers, representing Dickie Scruggs in the bribery allegations. Scruggs says Langston “will speak directly to the government’s false representation to the court” that he could implicate Zach Scruggs in a second case to improperly influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter. He also would be questioned about actions by his attorney, Anthony Farese of Ashland, who also represented Zach until soon after Langston became known as a government witness in the case.
• Anthony Farese – Ashland attorney, first representing Zach Scruggs on the criminal charges and then Joey Langston. Scruggs wants to hear his explanation about his dual representation.
• Thomas Dawson – then lead prosecutor in the case, who published a book about it in 2009. Scruggs says Dawson can explain the Langston-Farese situation and can impeach information given to the court about what Langston would say about Scruggs.
• Judge David Sanders – then an assistant prosecutor in the case, who later made a sworn statement that Langston never said anything that implicated Zach Scruggs in the DeLaughter scheme.
• Robert Norman – the current government prosecutor, who will be asked about the government’s misrepresentation to the court about Langston’s testimony and why it was never corrected on the record.
Zach Scruggs’ new motion to take these depositions also insists that most of these people have information that is favorable to him, whether about key discussions or documents.
He asks the court’s permission “to put these gentlemen under oath, so that the truth of this case can be readily determined and proven.”
It will be Biggers’ call on whether their testimony can be taken.
But the motion comes with a small warning: The 5th Circuit, which is the next step up in the appeal process, has warned federal judges that while they have discretion about approving new evidence, a blanket denial “is an abuse of discretion” if the evidence is “indispensable” to develop material facts of the case.
It concludes by describing the desired depositions as “indispensable.”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.