Three On Your Side Investigates: Judicial Bribery Update - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 01/17/08

Three On Your Side Investigates: Judicial Bribery Update

By Marsha Thompson

Another stunning development surrounding allegations of widespread conspiracy to bribe two judges -- a federal case that swirls around high-powered lawyers, well-connected politicians and millions of dollars in the balance.

We have learned two attorneys are throwing in the towel, and face disbarment. It's a case that has rocked the legal community and undermined public trust in the judicial system.

Former Assistant Attorney General and Dickie Scruggs law associate Timothy Balducci was the first to plead guilty. The federal charge was bribing Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey on Scruggs' behalf. There was $26 million up for grabs. Scruggs' former lawyer, one of the state's top plaintiffs' attorneys, Joey Langston, pleads guilty to conspiring to bribe Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter to rule in their favor in another legal fees dispute.

Former State Auditor Steve Patterson also pleaded guilty in association with this case. There was $15 million up for grabs.

All three are cooperating with the federal government. 

Langston's "information" document also says the trio tried to tempt DeLaughter with the possibility of a federal judgeship. That did not happen. Judge DeLaughter denies he took anything. However, according  to court documents, DeLaughter ruled in favor of Scruggs after a friend told him that siding with Scruggs could mean consideration for the judgeship. 

Former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters, a friend of the judge, later approached DeLaughter and "passed the information along to him," according to federal prosecutors. In at least one instance, according to documents, DeLaughter e-mailed to Peters a rough draft of an opinion he planned to issue. Langston, Balducci and Patterson would be able to see it before any (final version) was filed. 

Scruggs is a brother-in-law of former senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), whose duties as a senator included recommending nominees for federal judgeships. DeLaughter's name was submitted, but the senator supported Halil "Sul" Ozerden, who was sworn in as a federal judge in Mississippi in August, acccording to Lott's former chief of staff, Brett Boyles.

DeLaughter, in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, said he could not comment on reports of the grand jury probe but challenged anyone who doubted his judicial integrity to read his ruling in the case.

WLBT obtained documents Thursday from the Mississippi Supreme Court clerk's office revealing Langston requested an irrevocable resignation from the Mississippi State Bar two days ago.

Balducci offered up his law license January 11.

Adam Kilgore, general counsel with the Mississippi State Bar, says this is somewhat unusual.

"It's an admission to having committed an ethical violation, in this sense having pled guilty to committing a felony," Kilgore said.

The requests for irrevocable resignations are on file with the Mississippi Supreme Court. They are admissions of misconduct -- in this case conspiring to bribe two circuit court judges. This bars them from practicing law in Mississippi again.

"Regarding the two attorneys, the profession is in complete dismay, frustrated, upset, disappointed -- I could go on and on," Kilgore said.

They are troubling factors in two separate "justice for sale" cases that have opened a Pandora's box and tainted the legal systems scared principles of fair and impartial.

"These admissions and allegations of attempts to improperly influence judges undermine our system of justice," said the president of the Mississippi Bar in a recent statement.

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