Scruggs asks 5th Circuit to toss guilty plea

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) -- Lawyers for disgraced attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs on Monday asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to toss out his 2009 guilty plea to charges of bribing a judge.

During Monday's arguments, Edward "Chip" Robertson Jr. and former Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore said Scruggs did not offer former-Hinds County Judge Bobby DeLaughter "anything of value."

Scruggs, who at the time was serving a five-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2008 to bribing Lafayette County Judge Henry Lackey, had said he would suggest DeLaughter be given a federal judgeship. Scruggs, 66, insists that was "political speech."

The government, represented by Robert Norman, argued that the suggestion of a federal judgeship has value.

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.

Both DeLaughter and Lackey presided over Katrina-related legal fees lawsuits against Scruggs and others. Scruggs is free on bond while the appeal is considered. He's completed his sentence in the Lackey affair.

The three-judge federal panel hearing the arguments are Chief Judge Charles Stewart, Judge Jerry Smith and Judge J.L. Wiener Jr.

Last 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.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn't consider Zach Scruggs' appeal from the 5th Circuit. Zach Scruggs said he should be cleared of felony charges.

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