JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Mississippi judge Bobby DeLaughter was bribed by famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs and his legal team, a federal indictment against DeLaughter that was unsealed Thursday alleges.
DeLaughter presided over a dispute between Scruggs and a former business partner in Hinds County when he allowed himself to be persuaded by close friend Ed Peters, a former Hinds County district attorney who was paid $1 million by Scruggs' team to use the promise of a federal judgeship to influence DeLaughter.
Scruggs pleaded guilty to the scheme on Tuesday, receiving an extra 2 1/2 years on his current five-year prison sentence. His attorney in the case, Joey Langston, received three years when he pleaded guilty to the scheme.
The five-count indictment, originally filed Jan. 6, alleges DeLaughter had improper ex parte communication with Peters and had urged Peters not to enter himself as counsel in the case. Scruggs' brother-in-law, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, would recommend DeLaughter for a federal judgeship, it is alleged.
Lott recommended someone else for the opening. DeLaughter pleaded not guilty.
Mississippi political site Y'all Politics has the indictment here.
"All of this occurred as the Wilson v. Scruggs case gained intensity and proceeded to a final resolution in Judge DeLaughter's court," the indictment said.
"In return, Judge DeLaughter afforded the Scruggs legal team secret access to the court by way of Ed Peters, forwarding them advance copies of his rulings and proposed orders on issues before the court and on one occasion accepting from the Scruggs legal team a scheduling order favorable to Scruggs, which the court then adopted, almost verbatim."
DeLaughter is charged with trading influence, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, bribery and mail fraud. Investigators claim he told them he never spoke to Peters about the issues of the case while it was pending.
More than 20 years ago, William Roberts Wilson, Alwyn Luckey and Scruggs each had their own stake in a group Scruggs started to file asbestos cases. Wilson and Luckey eventually sold their interests in more than 2,300 asbestos cases in agreements that were interpreted differently by all parties, and the two filed suit against Scruggs. Wilson filed his in 1994, and it dragged on for 12 years.
Luckey was awarded $17.5 million in his dispute with Scruggs after a trial in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis, but Wilson received only a $1.5 million payment because DeLaughter's interpretation of the contract showed no remaining balance owed to Wilson, and that a trial would have been merely for bragging rights.
A special master, though, had recommended Wilson be awarded $15 million.
In a civil suit filed in January, Wilson alleged a conspiracy that involved Scruggs, his lawyers in the dispute, DeLaughter, former state Auditor Steven Patterson, Peters and an unnamed former U.S. Senator.
Scruggs was already incarcerated for attempting to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over Hurricane Katrina attorneys fees. His co-conspirators, former Langston law partner Timothy Balducci and Patterson, will be sentenced for their roles Friday.
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.
The case, and Scruggs' work, was depicted in the Al Pacino/Russell Crowe film "The Insider."
DeLaughter has also been depicted on the big screen.
He and Peters reopened the 1963 murder case of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of the crime in 1994.
Alec Baldwin portrayed DeLaughter in the 1996 movie "Ghosts of Mississippi."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.