Oxford — Both the defense and prosecution in the federal bribery case against famed plaintiffs attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and his associates plan to call retired Sen. Trent Lott to the stand if a judge allows testimony about Scruggs’ “prior bad acts” in the upcoming trial.
U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. is considering whether to allow testimony about what a federal witness called a bribery attempt of Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in an unrelated case.
It was the second time during a two-day hearing to deal with several motions that the former Republican senator’s name was brought up in connection with Scruggs, his brother-in-law.
Witness Timothy Balducci, who has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge and is cooperating with the prosecution, said Wednesday that Lott called DeLaughter on Scruggs’ behalf.
Balducci claimed Lott told the judge that he would put him on the list of potential candidates for a federal judgeship if he made a favorable ruling in a case involving a dispute over legal fees.
DeLaughter and Lott deny any wrongdoing.
Scruggs, his son and law partner Zach, and attorney Sidney Backstrom are accused of trying to bribe another judge to get a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuits.
All three have pleaded not guilty and a trial is set to begin March 31.
Richard Scruggs, who made hundreds of millions of dollars taking on tobacco, asbestos and insurance companies, could get 75 years in prison if convicted.
The prosecution would like to introduce the claim that Scruggs bribed DeLaughter to show the jury that the elder Scruggs had a history of trying to influence judges before he allegedly conspired to pay Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey $40,000 for a favorable ruling.
Lott has denied to The Associated Press through a spokesman being involved in any bribery attempt of DeLaughter. The former senator said the judge, who also has told the AP he has done no wrong, was among several people Lott made courtesy calls to about a vacancy in the federal court system. Lott recommended Gulf Coast attorney Sul Ozerden for the post.
Scruggs attorney John Keker and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman gave lists of who they would call if Biggers allowed testimony about the alleged bribe to DeLaughter. Lott’s name came up both times.
“And I believe his testimony would be short,” Norman said.
Norman also said he would call Sen. Thad Cochran to testify since Mississippi’s congressional delegation likely came to a consensus on who to recommend.
Keker argued that testimony about the alleged bribe attempt should be excluded because there is nothing illegal about a lawyer suggesting a judge for a federal post. He also noted that DeLaughter is a Democrat, making it unlikely that he would be appointed by a Republican administration even if Lott used his considerable influence for his cause.
“If the government thinks this is a crime, they have a way to deal with it,” Keker said. “They can bring a charge.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Dawson told the court the DeLaughter case “is under active investigation by the Public Integrity section at the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. even as we speak.”
In a follow up interview, Dawson said he’s aware of news reports that Lott is being investigated, but had no direct knowledge of any investigation of the former senator.
The case that DeLaughter presided over goes back to 1994 when two of Scruggs’ former associates, attorneys Alwyn Luckey and William Roberts Wilson Jr., sued Scruggs for a bigger cut of millions of dollars that the attorneys won in asbestos litigation. The case worked its way through the courts for years before DeLaughter ruled in August 2006.
Scruggs’ former defense attorney, Joey Langston, of Booneville, has pleaded guilty to trying to influence DeLaughter.
Delaughter, a former assistant district attorney, is renowned for prosecuting Byron De La Beckwith in the early 1990s for the 1963 murder of NAACP field secretary Medger Evers. That case was portrayed in the 1996 movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.”
Biggers wrapped up the hearing by denying the defense’s request to move the upcoming trial out of Mississippi. Keker noted what he described as heavy negative coverage that seemed limited to the state and especially the Oxford area, where Scruggs’ went to the University of Mississippi and has a law office downtown.
The judge said he would rule on motions to suppress wiretapping evidence, exclude testimony about the alleged bribery of DeLaughter and sever Zach Scruggs and Backstrom from the case of Richard Scruggs by next Tuesday.