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Legal Ethics

More Details Emerge in Scruggs Bribery Case, Former Counsel Pleads

Posted Jan 14, 2008 2:15 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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More details were revealed in court today concerning an alleged attempt by famed Mississippi personal injury attorney Richard Scruggs and four others to bribe a judge last year for a favorable ruling in a $26.5 million case involving Hurricane Katrina legal fees. Meanwhile, in a separate case in which Scruggs is not a defendant, a guilty plea by his former lawyer, Joseph Langston of Booneville, Miss., was revealed concerning an alleged effort to improperly influence a second judge.

An attorney who is not a defendant in the Scruggs case said in open court today that Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey initiated the bribery attempt by seeking $40,000 from the five-member group, according to the Daily Journal, a newspaper in northeast Mississippi.

As discussed by the Daily Journal and in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, Scruggs, his son Zach and Sidney Backstrom, an Oxford, Miss, lawyer, were charged late last year in the alleged bribery attempt. Two other co-defendants, Timothy Balducci, an attorney in New Albany, Miss., and Steven Patterson, a former state auditor, pleaded guilty and reportedly are cooperating with the prosecution. Langston withdrew from representing Scruggs earlier this month, after his law office was searched by FBI agents.

A guilty plea earlier this month by Langston was unsealed today in federal court in Oxford, Miss., reports the Wall Street Journal. Langston previously represented Scruggs in an dispute over legal fees concerning asbestos litigation, the newspaper notes. (The Associated Press says Langston previously represented Scruggs in a bribery case.)

"Though Mr. Scruggs was not named as a defendant in the new criminal case," the Wall Street Journal article explains, "papers made public on Monday allege that Mr. Scruggs and others conspired with Mr. Langston to attempt to influence the judge in the underlying fee dispute, Bobby DeLaughter, by providing Judge DeLaughter 'favorable consideration' for a federal judgeship."

DeLaughter, who sits in Hinds County Circuit Court, has not been charged with any wrongdoing and denies having taken a bribe. John Keker, a lawyer representing Scruggs, says his client didn't try to influence DeLaughter.

As the AP article recounts: "Scruggs is the brother-in-law of former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, who had responsibility for recommending people for federal judgeships. Lott resigned from the Senate in December. He said his departure was not connected to any scandal, and Lott is not accused of any wrongdoing."

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