The nearly two-year-old Mississippi judicial scandal, which has ensnared some of the state’s leading lawyers and now a circuit judge, may finally be coming to an end.
The guilty plea of Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter last week to one count of lying to federal investigators prompted U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee to declare his work on the matter done.
What preceded the DeLaughter plea and his resignation from the bench was nothing less than the most sensational series of revelations regarding the state’s legal system in modern memory. Mississippi’s most famous lawyer, Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, was the marquee figure in a story of greed and corruption that took down several less widely-known but still prominent attorneys as well – and that involved, at least on the non-criminal periphery, a former U.S. senator and Scruggs’ brother-in-law, Trent Lott.
The brazenness of attempted judicial bribery and webs of deceit that came to light in the inter-related cases pursued by federal investigators can only be explained by the hubris of those involved. Apparently believing they were invincible, Scruggs, Joey Langston of Booneville, Timothy Balducci of New Albany and others conspired to erode the most basic foundation of our judicial system: the honesty and integrity of judges.
It was all about money – huge amounts of it. Some of the state’s richest men wanted millions more, and were willing to abandon ethics and poison the system to get it.
They got caught, which is a good thing. But the damage they’ve done to public confidence in the system and honest lawyers who play by the rules is incalculable. Coupled with convictions in an earlier judicial bribery scandal in South Mississippi, that damage will take time to overcome.
It’s worth remembering those whose unimpeachable integrity helped bring the corruption to light. Foremost among them is Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City, who when approached with a bribe proposal notified the FBI and helped bring down the perpetrators.
DeLaughter, unfortunately, wasn’t so ethically inclined when the prospect of a federal judgeship was dangled in front of him. DeLaughter, as the others ensnared in this scandal, will likely go to prison. Former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters – pegged as having received $1 million to influence DeLaughter on Scruggs’ behalf – will probably avoid jail time because of his cooperation in the investigation.
It’s a sordid spectacle. At least the system has been purged of some who treated it as their own private wealth-producing preserve.
They were all men of exceptional talent who had done some good things in their lives and careers.
What a tragedy. What a waste.
NEMS Daily Journal