Mississippi High Court Suspends Judge Involved in Scruggs Case

March 31, 2008

The Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a prominent judge last week who is being investigated for his role in a dispute over fees involving attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs.

The court sided with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, which was concerned that Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter might have accepted a bribe.

DeLaughter said this week that he would not fight the action. He is suspended indefinitely.

The commission claimed the judge had improper communications outside court in a case he ruled on. It also said he engaged in willful and prejudicial misconduct.

Messages left with DeLaughter and Luther T. Brantley, executive director of the commission, were not immediately returned. DeLaughter has denied wrongdoing to The Associated Press and defends his ruling in favor of Scruggs.

DeLaughter, a former assistant district attorney, rose to national attention for prosecuting Byron De La Beckwith in the early 1990s for the 1963 murder of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers. The case was portrayed in the 1996 movie “Ghosts of Mississippi,” with Alec Baldwin playing DeLaughter.

DeLaughter first came under scrutiny in January when attorney Joey Langston pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with Scruggs to influence DeLaughter in a dispute over asbestos litigation fees.

Scruggs has not been charged in the DeLaughter investigation. Scruggs pleaded guilty March 14 in federal court to conspiring to bribe Lafayette County Judge Henry Lackey in a dispute over Hurricane Katrina insurance settlement legal fees.

Witnesses have testified that Scruggs used DeLaughter’s friend and former boss, ex-Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters, to persuade the judge to rule in his favor. Scruggs allegedly offered DeLaughter a chance to be recommended for a federal judgeship by former Sen. Trent Lott, Scruggs’ brother-in-law.

Though Lott said he called DeLaughter about an opening, Lott denied any wrongdoing to The Associated Press through a spokesman and said his actions were routine.

“The complete truth cannot be known to the citizens until a hearing, separating fact from fiction. Until that time, I realize that public confidence cannot be reasonably expected to be restored,” DeLaughter wrote.

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