Hinds judge questions former DA work in trade secrets case

Published 6:21 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The senior trial judge in Hinds County says he is reviewing previous rulings in a trade secrets lawsuit and what role, if any, a former prosecutor may have played in the case.

“If the integrity of the court has been compromised, the court can investigate that,” Circuit Judge Swan Yerger said Monday. “It definitely will be investigated by me or a special master. The court does have a number of questions.”

Yerger inherited the Eaton Corp. v. Jeff Frisby lawsuit from Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter. DeLaughter removed himself amid reports that the federal government was investigating whether former longtime District Attorney Ed Peters used his friendship with DeLaughter, a former prosecutor under Peters, to influence the judge’s rulings.

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DeLaughter has denied any wrongdoing in the Eaton case or any other case.

Yerger heard motions in the case Monday. Yerger said he will decide whether Peters is allowed to stay a part of the case .

Alan Perry, an attorney for Frisby, argued Monday that nothing should be done with the lawsuit until issues surrounding Peters are settled.

“Things started going their way after Ed Peters got involved,” Perry said about Eaton’s case.

Eaton Aerospace hired Peters, but an attorney for the company said in court Monday that it is not responsible for Peters’ actions.

Eaton Aerospace alleges former employees stole trade secrets for military contracts from the Jackson company and gave them to their new employer, Frisby Aerospace, a North Carolina competitor. A federal grand jury subsequently indicted the employees on the same accusations. No trial date has been set in the civil or criminal case.

On Oct. 29, 2007, DeLaughter removed Oxford lawyer Jack Dunbar as special master to hear evidence and make a recommendation to DeLaughter in the lawsuit. Four days earlier, Peters contacted Larry Latham about serving as a special master in the case.

“Ed Peters could have only known (Dunbar was going to be removed) if improper conduct occurred,” Perry said.

Latham has removed himself from the case, citing the contact from Peters. Latham said in court papers that the conversation with Peters was brief.

“The important part of the conversation is this: Mr. Peters informed me that I was being considered for appointment as a special master in this case, (and) would I be interested if I were selected,” Latham said.

Latham said he asked Peters if he was going to be in the case. “I have not yet entered my appearance,” he said Peters replied.

“If I’m chosen and have no conflict, I look forward to working with you,” Latham said he told Peters.

Latham said he had no further contact with Peters until Nov. 8, when Peters left a message with Latham’s assistant: “Don’t bring up my name.”

Latham said in court papers that he was unaware Dunbar was serving as special master when he was being considered.

Eaton attorney Michael Wallace said Monday that the company agrees that all orders filed in the case since Peters’ involvement should be reviewed.

Wallace said Eaton hasn’t done anything wrong.

“Eaton is not responsible for what Ed Peters did, and unless you can show intent, you can’t sit here and say Eaton did this and Eaton did that,” Wallace told the judge. “There’s no evidence that ties Eaton to misconduct.”

The federal investigation has led to five arrests and three guilty pleas on bribery charges in two cases involving lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs. The Eaton suit is not one of them.