An Alabama attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against imprisoned attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and several others, alleging they conspired with a former U.S. senator to bribe a state court judge and defraud him of millions in legal fees.
The former senator is not identified by name in the federal lawsuit filed by William Roberts Wilson Jr. However, one of Wilson’s attorneys, Vicki Slater of Jackson, said the unnamed senator is Scruggs’ brother-in-law, Trent Lott, a Republican power broker who retired in 2007.
Lott’s name had already surfaced in the most sweeping federal judicial bribery investigation in Mississippi in years, but he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit are based on information revealed in the federal investigation.
Bret Boyles, a spokesman with Lott’s lobbying firm in Washington D.C., said they learned about the lawsuit through the media and had no comment.
Scruggs and Wilson, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., once worked together suing asbestos companies. Wilson claimed Scruggs cheated him out of money and used it to fund a batch of landmark anti-tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s, in which Scruggs reportedly earned as much as $848 million. Wilson sued for a cut.
Wilson now accuses Scruggs and the others of racketeering by conspiring to bribe a judge presiding over the dispute dealing with the asbestos fees.
The defendants include Scruggs; his convicted son Zach; convicted New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci; convicted Booneville attorney Joey Langston; convicted former Mississippi Auditor Steve Patterson; former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters; 10 “John Does” and two law firms associated with Scruggs.
The 12-page lawsuit says Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby B. DeLaughter and a former United States senator– neither of whom is named as a defendant — joined the conspiracy and agreed to aid and abet Scruggs and the others.
Lott and DeLaughter maintain they did nothing wrong.
The fact that Lott and DeLaughter aren’t named as defendants in the civil lawsuit could mean Wilson “doesn’t have evidence that they participated in the scheme,” said Mississippi College School of Law professor Matt Steffey, who has followed the bribery investigation.
“Sen. Lott has consistently maintained that he knew nothing of this and I’m inclined to take the senator’s word” until there is evidence to the contrary, Steffey said.
Several of the men named as defendants in the civil action have been convicted in the federal investigation, including in a conspiracy to bribe a different judge in an unrelated case.
Scruggs is serving a five-year sentence for conspiring to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey in a legal fee dispute over Hurricane Katrina lawsuits. His associates _ Balducci, Langston and Patterson _ took plea bargains in the case and pointed investigators to other alleged crimes, including the asbestos case in Hinds County.
Scruggs has denied he tried to influence DeLaughter. Langston is the only person who has been charged publicly in the DeLaughter case. He pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to corruptly influence DeLaughter and was sentenced to three years. His prison reporting date has been postponed so he can help investigators in the ongoing investigation.
Prosecutors say Scruggs, Peters, Langston, Balducci and Patterson conspired to influence DeLaughter by promising that Lott would help him get appointed to a federal judgeship. One of Lott’s duties as a senator was to recommend nominees for federal judgeships.
Lott did call DeLaughter about a vacancy in the federal court system, but Boyles has said in the past that Lott made numerous courtesy calls related to court vacancies. Lott recommended someone else for the position.
Langston allegedly paid Peters a total of $1 million for helping persuade DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs’ favor, court records say. Peters has not been charged, but he gave up his law license and federal agents seized $425,000 — apparently what was left of the $1 million payment, court records show.
DeLaughter once worked for Peters as an assistant district attorney. They are best known for successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith in 1994 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.
Scruggs’ legal conquests in the tobacco cases were portrayed in the 1999 film “The Insider.”
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