Chris Dickerson Dec. 15, 2012, 1:19am

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) - Disgraced attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs' appeal of his conviction will be heard early next year by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On its schedule advisory, the court tentatively has penciled in oral arguments for the week of March 4 in the former Oxford, Miss., attorney's appeal of the 2009 conviction concerning improper influence on a judge - former Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter -- who was in charge of a case regarding legal fees involving Scruggs and others.

The 66-year-old Scruggs recently finished serving time after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to bribe another judge - Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey. Scruggs is free on $2 million bond until the DeLaughter-case appeal is resolved.

Scruggs says he didn't bribe DeLaughter, instead saying that when he told the judge he would suggest him for a federal judgeship that it was "political speech."

DeLaughter says he was not bribed, but he did plead guilty to improper communications about the Scruggs lawsuit. He served prison time, but it now free.

Earlier this year, Scruggs argued that his guilty pleas in the two bribery schemes should be vacated.

Scruggs, his son Zach, attorneys Sidney Backstrom and Timothy Balducci and former state Auditor Steven Patterson were charged in 2007 with attempting to bribe Lackey with $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over Hurricane Katrina attorneys fees.

All five pleaded guilty, and Dickie Scruggs received a five-year prison sentence.

It is also alleged that Scruggs paid $1 million to former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters, who used to work with DeLaughter, to bribe the judge with the promise of a federal judgeship. Scruggs' brother-in-law is former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, who resigned a week before the charges were filed.

Dickie Scruggs pleaded guilty to the scheme, receiving an extra 2 1/2 years in prison. His attorney, Joey Langston, received three years when he pleaded guilty to the scheme.

Known as an asbestos attorney, Dickie Scruggs gained notoriety when his work helped lead to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating territories and states. Mississippi is not one of them, but has its own separate agreement.

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