APRIL 16, 2009
A Mississippi judge federally indicted for bribery insists the charges should be dropped because he didn’t receive anything of value but rather a “meaningless courtesy call” from the lawmaker who tried to influence him.
The suspended Hinds County Circuit judge (Robert DeLaughter) has been charged with five felonies for exchanging favorable rulings for consideration to the federal bench. Prosecutors say that a millionaire attorney (Richard Scruggs), serving a seven-year prison sentence for bribing two judges, influenced DeLaughter by promising to help him get the federal appointment through his brother-in-law who at the time was U.S. Senator (Trent Lott).
Scruggs, a major political donor, made a fortune from asbestos litigation and brokering multibillion-dollar settlements with tobacco companies in the 1990s. DeLaughter presided over a multi million-dollar asbestos fee dispute between Scruggs and his former business partner when he was bribed. His ruling saved Scruggs $15 million.
Lott, the Republican senator who abruptly resigned in 2007, has acknowledged calling DeLaughter and telling him that his attorney brother-in-law (Scruggs) had told him what a “fine judge” DeLaughter was. As a U.S. senator one of Lott’s duties was to recommend nominees for federal judgeships and DeLaughter had already thrown his name into the pool.
In a motion to dismiss the charges this week, DeLaughter claimed the senator’s phone call did not meet the criteria of a bribe because it was nothing of value. Therefore, according to his legal team, no crime was committed. The case boils down to a judge who received ex parte contacts on one hand and a litigant who arranged a meaningless courtesy call on the other, according to the judge’s attorneys. The trial is scheduled for later this year.
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