Judge DeLaughter pleads not guilty in bribery case
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter pleaded not guilty Thursday to five federal charges in a wide-ranging judicial bribery scheme that has ensnared some of the wealthiest attorneys in the state.
DeLaughter - who gained national acclaim for his 1994 prosecution of a white supremacist in the 1963 slaying of a Mississippi civil rights leader - entered the U.S. District Court in Oxford in a business suit and tie, wearing handcuffs.
He was shackled at the waist and legs and escorted by federal marshals. The leg shackles were removed once he was in the courtroom.
The five-count indictment was sealed when DeLaughter appeared in court, but the document was expected to be released within hours.
When U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander asked DeLaughter for his plea, DeLaughter replied: "Not guilty to all charges." He was released on a $10,000 bond and trial was set for April 6.
DeLaughter has been suspended from the bench while the allegations are being investigated but has maintained he did nothing wrong. He has not responded to numerous messages left by The Associated Press in recent months.
"In general terms, Judge DeLaughter is charged with participating in a scheme to defraud the citizens of the state of fair and honest services of a public official," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman.
The hearing came just two days after noted anti-tobacco attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs pleaded guilty to mail fraud charges in the same bribery investigation.
DeLaughter presided over a legal dispute between Scruggs and other lawyers over millions of dollars in fees from asbestos litigation.
Scruggs was already serving five years for conspiring to bribe a north Mississippi judge when two years were tacked onto his sentence as part of a plea deal in the DeLaughter case.
DeLaughter is a judge in Hinds County, home to the state capital and Mississippi's largest city.
Scruggs admitted Tuesday he was involved in a scheme to entice DeLaughter to rule in his favor by promising he'd be appointed to the federal bench with help from Scruggs' brother-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.
During the Tuesday hearing in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, Norman said DeLaughter ruled in Scruggs' favor.
Lott talked to DeLaughter, but ultimately recommended someone else.
Lott has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Disbarred Booneville attorney Joey Langston also has pleaded guilty to trying to influence DeLaughter on Scruggs' behalf. Langston claimed he directed $1 million to former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters to help persuade DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs' favor.
The government has seized $425,000 from Peters, which is all they say is left after taxes and stock market losses. He has not been charged and has not returned calls for comment.
DeLaughter was once an assistant district attorney under Peters. They made headlines in 1994 by successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
The case was portrayed in the 1996 movie "Ghosts of Mississippi." DeLaughter wrote a book about the trial.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-02-12-09 1239EST
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