3 On Your Side Investigates - UPDATE: Judge Bobby DeLaughter - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Jackson MS 03/20/08

3 On Your Side Investigates - UPDATE: Judge Bobby DeLaughter

DELAUGHTER DELAUGHTER

By Marsha Thompson
marsha@wlbt.net

There was no word Thursday from Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who is under the microscope of a federal investigation. In the latest developments the judge has recused himself from a 2003 lawsuit.  

DeLaughter has a successful history. He was a tough prosecutor under Ed Peters in the Hinds County District Attorney's Office. He garnered national attention as the man who prosecuted white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, the KKK member who gunned down civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963. DeLaughter was portrayed in the 1996 movie on the Evers case, "Ghosts of Mississippi," and wrote a memoir titled "Never Too Late."

Now DeLaughter is being haunted by rulings handed down from the bench. The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance intends to investigate the judge and has filed formal disciplinary charges against him. 

"The complaint here is an outgrowth of the federal investigation into political bribery and misconduct," says the commission's executive director, Brant Brantley.

The question at hand -- did the judge violate the canons of judicial conduct? To the heart of it -- was he bribed or influenced, specifically by his mentor and former D.A. Ed Peters. 

Peters, even though not listed as attorney of record, is accused of changing DeLaughter's mind on a monetary judgement in the case of Kirk vs. Pope. Documents show that Peters called DeLaughter at home in 2003 to discuss the lawsuit. In return, the judge essentially acted as an advocate for the defense by advising Peters. The jury's award to Kirk was mysteriously changed from $700,000 to only $400,000.

In the $16 million Wilson vs. Scruggs lawsuit, Dickie Scruggs' former attorney Joey Langston admits getting $3 million to influence that case before Judge DeLaughter. Langston says Peters pocketed $1 million to convince DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs' favor. DeLaughter did essentially that; Scruggs kept most of the $16 million. Langston told the FBI the bait was not money, but the promise of a lifetime seat on the federal bench.

On March 18, Judge DeLaughter recused himself from the Wilson vs. Scruggs case and in it he basically proclaimed his innocence -- a move some legal observers view as unusual. He writes, in part, "The undersigned judge of this court has never, in this or any other case, issued a ruling in exchange or consideration of anything (money or otherwise) other than the applicable law."

Brantley says DeLaughter faces serious allegations of judicial conduct. That's why Brantley's watchdog agency took action to keep him off future cases, a move designed in part -- according to Brantley -- to protect the public's perception of the judiciary.

"With this dark cloud hanging over our judiciary, we believe it is in the best interest of the public and the system that the judge be suspended," Brantley said. 

DeLaughter has seven days to file a response to the petition, which is now before the Mississippi Supreme Court. Between now and then Judge DeLaughter can continue to hear civil and criminal cases on his docket.  

WLBT News was unable to contact DeLaughter or Peters for comment on this report.

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