OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge won't dismiss a civil lawsuit against incarcerated plaintiffs attorney Richard Scruggs, but he will put it on hold until the judicial bribery trial of Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter is over.
Judge Neal Biggers, of the Northern District of Mississippi, handed down the order Tuesday in the civil lawsuit surrounding the alleged bribery of DeLaughter. DeLaughter's trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 17.
"The court finds that the present case should be stayed pending the trial of Bobby DeLaughter," Biggers wrote. "The court will only stay this case until the conclusion of said trial. This ruling does not apply to any potential activity in that case beyond the trial."
Attorneys for Scruggs had noted in their motion to dismiss that Scruggs' former business partner, William Roberts Wilson Jr., filed for sanctions in the case DeLaughter presided over, and that the new presiding judge is mulling what options are available to a litigant who claims a settlement was induced by fraud.
"In the interests of sound judicial administration and economy and to permit resolution of a state law question bearing on policy problems of substantial public import, this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over this action," Scruggs' attorneys wrote.
"Instead, this Court should dismiss this action or stay this matter pending resolution of the Hinds County Circuit Court action."
Timothy Balducci teamed with Joey Langston to represent Scruggs in the case. It is alleged that the two 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 pleaded guilty to the scheme earlier this year, receiving an extra 2 1/2 years on his current five-year prison sentence for a separate judicial bribery scheme. 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.
More than 20 years ago, 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.
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.
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.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.