Justice For Sale? Judicial Bribery Cases Strikingly Similar - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Oxford 02/19/08

Justice For Sale? Judicial Bribery Cases Strikingly Similar

By Marsha Thompson

There are new developments in the 'Justice for Sale?' scandal sweeping Mississippi. A flurry of new motions were filed by the government on Tuesday. One details why prosecutors should be allowed to present evidence of two separate bribery attempts allegedly involving trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs and others.

This is the government's side of the combined memorandum of authorities and response to defendants' "motion in limine to exclude introduction of extrinsic evidence pursuant to rule 404(b). They want to be allowed to detail not one but two cases involving allegations of judicial bribery by Dickie Scruggs and others indicted.

The memorandum starts out: The defendants argue that the government is trying to show evidence of a different attempt..... To corruptly influence a different judge of a different court in a different case by different attorneys in a different year. But the government maintains the facts in the case at bar and the facts in the Wilson case are strikingly similar.

Scruggs and others indicted also protest that the evidence would portray uncharged misconduct which has never been litigated in any court.  They complain that admission of that evidence will create a "trial within a trial." 

The feds claim the Scruggs Law Firm offered a bribe to Lafayette Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey and Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter. In both cases, the government claims, Scruggs' law firm used intermediaries in their bribery attempts.

They are accused of using lawyer Timothy Balducci to illegally influence Lackey, who is a  long-term and trusted friend of Balducci's. The government notes: unable to get it for free, the defendants didn't hesitate to pay 50 grand to influence Lackey. The judge played along, then burned them all by going to the fed's.

The Wilson case was set in Hinds County Court, with Scruggs again fighting over millions in legal fees. The government claims: Timothy Balducci, Joey Langston and former State Auditor Steve Patterson paid former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters to corruptly influence his long-time friend, Judge DeLaughter. Prosecutors say the possibility of a federal judgeship was served up as a reward.

Delaughter claims he never accepted anything.

Booneville trial lawyer Joey Langston stopped representing Scruggs after the FBI raided his law office in December. In a surprise move, Langston pleaded guilty to judicial bribery involving Judge DeLaughter. He is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors about what went down with the Hinds County deal.

Favorable decisions from the two judges spelled millions for Scruggs law firm.

The government's summary: Both cases were likely to have won even without bribes, but they were "willing to have judges corruptly influenced to ensure they had an edge."

They are two strikingly similar crimes, the government argues, that occurred within one year -- two reasons they maintain the evidence is fair game in federal court.

No charges have been lodged against Ed Peters, Steve Patterson or Judge DeLaughter in the Hinds County case.

Dickie Scruggs claims he was never party to judicial bribery and that his former law partner, Timothy Balducci, acted on his own.

Balducci has pleaded guilty and is also cooperating.

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