Criminal Justice

Appeals Court Refuses to Vacate Guilty Plea in Judicial Corruption Case

A federal appeals court has refused to vacate the 2008 guilty plea of David Zachary Scruggs, son of disgraced former plaintiffs lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who was implicated in a judicial corruption scheme that sent his father to prison.

The younger Scruggs, a law partner at his father’s former firm, pleaded guilty to failing to report a conspiracy to improperly influence a judge in a dispute with other lawyers over $26.5 million in legal fees, the Associated Press reports.

In a ruling (PDF) Thursday, a three-judge panel from the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Scruggs had failed to demonstrate on any ground that he is entitled to relief.

Scruggs, who has already served a 14-month prison sentence for the crime, had argued that his guilty plea should be thrown out because his conduct didn’t constitute a crime in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 holding that an anti-fraud law was improperly used to help convict former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Alexander argued that the evidence showed Scruggs knew about the plot to bribe a Mississippi state judge in connection with a Hurricane Katrina-related lawsuit his firm was involved in.

Scruggs’ father, Dickie, who helped secure a multibillion-dollar settlement with the tobacco industry in the 1990s, is serving a seven-year prison sentence for his role in the bribery plot and for a separate scheme to bribe another Mississippi state judge.

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