Feds: Skip pretrial conference in DeLaughter bribery case

John O'Brien Apr. 13, 2009, 4:55pm


OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - There is no need for a pretrial hearing on the admissibility of statements implicating Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter in a bribery scheme, federal prosecutors are arguing.

DeLaughter is alleged to have ruled in favor of famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs in a dispute over attorneys fees in exchange for consideration for a federal judgeship. Scruggs and his lawyer in the case, Joey Langston, have already pleaded guilty to the alleged scheme.

"Clearly the defense would like to preview the government's evidence in a private trial before the jury is empaneled, but a pretrial James hearing is neither necessary nor required," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman wrote Thursday.

DeLaughter wants either the pretrial hearing or a formal written proffer of the statements made by anyone testifying against him as a co-conspirator. His counsel, Thomas Anthony Durkin of Durkin & Roberts in Chicago, filed the motion March 26.

"Defendant submits as well that this case presents an exceptional circumstance where such a hearing will not only result in greater judicial efficiency, but also avoid substantial and very real potential prejudice to Judge DeLaughter as his connection to the charged conspiracies is based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of alleged co-conspirators - evidence which is slim at the very best, and legally suspect in the first instance," the motion says.

"Based on the lack of substantial direct evidence against him, and the tenuous legal thread supporting the allegations of federal criminal liability, a serious question can be said to legitimately exist in this case that the government's proof will fail to show that Judge DeLaughter was a knowing and intentional member of the charged conspiracy or scheme."

At issue is DeLaughter's ruling that Scrugggs owed no more than what he had already paid to former business partner William Roberts Wilson. The two, along with Alwyn Luckey, teamed up to file asbestos lawsuits in the 1980s.

Luckey and Wilson both claimed Scruggs shortchanged them. Luckey won $17 million in his lawsuit, but DeLaughter ignored a special master's opinion that Wilson was owed $15 million.

Langston and Scruggs say they tempted DeLaughter with a recommendation from Scruggs' brother-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, for a federal judgeship. Lott, eventually, recommended someone else.

Scruggs' plea added 2 1/2 years onto a five-year sentence for attempting to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 in exchange for a favorable ruling in a dispute over fees from Hurricane Katrina lawsuits. Langston was sentenced to three years in prison after his plea.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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