ABERDEEN, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Former Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter received an 18-month prison sentence Friday, becoming the latest Mississippi legal figure to be punished for his role in a judicial bribery scheme.
DeLaughter pleaded guilty in July to lying to federal prosecutors as they probed a civil lawsuit involving disgraced plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who was sentenced to a total of 7 1/2 years in prison for attempting to bribe two judges who were presiding over attorneys fees disputes.
Count five of the January indictment alleged DeLaughter told FBI agents that he "never spoke to Ed Peters" about Scruggs' case in Dec. 2007.
Peters is a former Hinds County district attorney who used to work with DeLaughter and is alleged to have taken $1 million from Scruggs' lawyers in a dispute over attorneys fees to bribe DeLaughter with the promise of a federal judgeship.
"(I)n truth and fact he had corruptly discussed with Ed Peters substantive issues in the Wilson v. Scruggs case on numerous occasions and knew Peters was secretly acting on behalf of Scruggs' lawyers in an attempt to gain favorable rulings for Scruggs at a time when Peters was not counsel of record..." the indictment says.
Federal prosecutors allege 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, 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.
Peters received immunity for his testimony in the case, while Joey Langston, Scruggs' lawyer, pleaded guilty and received a three-year prison sentence.
Scruggs also pleaded guilty, adding 2 1/2 years to the five-year sentence he is serving for a separate judicial bribery scheme. He pleaded guilty to offering $50,000 to Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey for a favorable ruling in a dispute over attorneys fees from Hurricane Katrina lawsuits.
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.
Scruggs' work was chronicle in the 1999 film "The Insider," starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.
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."
DeLaughter will be incarcerated Jan. 4.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.