DeLaughter says he won’t challenge suspension

Published 3:27 pm Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter says if the Mississippi Supreme Court follows a judicial watchdog agency’s recommendation to suspend him, he won’t challenge the order.

The state Commission on Judicial Performance last week asked the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend DeLaughter from the bench while the commission reviewed complaints against him. The state’s high court hasn’t acted on the request.

DeLaughter sent a letter on Tuesday to Luther T. Brantley, executive director of the commission. DeLaughter said in the letter that the public’s confidence in the judicial system is important to him.

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He wrote that if the commission and the Supreme Court believe his “suspension, pending a hearing, will in some measure restore that confidence … I will not challenge that temporary suspension and I look with the greatest anticipation to my chance to be heard.”

In January, attorney Joseph Langston pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with powerful plaintiffs’ attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs to illegally influence DeLaughter in a dispute with other lawyers over fees from asbestos litigation.

Scruggs pleaded guilty March 14 to conspiring with others to bribe a different state judge in a separate dispute over attorneys’ fees. Scruggs hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with DeLaughter.

DeLaughter has denied any wrongdoing and defended a ruling that favored Scruggs in the asbestos fee dispute.

“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 in the letter.

Brantley said it could be several months before a hearing is scheduled on the complaints against DeLaughter. He said at the time, the judge will have the opportunity to respond to the complaints.

DeLaughter, a former assistant district attorney, prosecuted Byron De La Beckwith in the early 1990s for the 1963 murder of NAACP field secretary Medger Evers.

DeLaughter was assigned to preside over a case involving a dispute between Scruggs and other lawyers over fees from asbestos cases.

Federal prosecutors claim Scruggs dispatched intermediaries in 2006 to tell DeLaughter that if he ruled in his favor, he would pass along his name for consideration for a federal judgeship.

Former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters, a friend of DeLaughter’s, later passed that information along to DeLaughter, prosecutors said. DeLaughter allegedly e-mailed to Peters a rough draft of a planned opinion in the Scruggs case.