Attorney gets 3 years in Miss. judicial bribery

Published 12:33 am Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Mississippi attorney convicted of conspiring to influence a judge in a major judicial bribery case sentenced Tuesday to three years in federal prison and must start serving time by the middle of next month.

Attorney Joey Langston was sentenced after pleading guilty in January to trying to intervene in a lawsuit against well-known plaintiffs’ lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs.

Langston, 51, of Booneville, received the maximum sentence recommended by prosecutors and was fined $250,000.

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Scruggs, who took on tobacco companies for a record $206 billion settlement, went to prison in August for conspiring to bribe another Mississippi judge in a separate case linked to the same complex investigation.

Prosecutors recommended Langston’s sentence based on his help in the investigation that put Scruggs in prison.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mills sentenced Langston and ordered him to report to federal prison by Jan. 15. Mills said he would recommend to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that Langston be sent to the federal facility in Montgomery, Ala. The BOP does not have to follow the recommendation.

Langston’s attorney, Tony Farese of Ashland, said Langston can receive medical treatment for a heart condition and diabetes at the prison in Alabama.

Langston told Mills he feels deep remorse for his actions.

“It has been a nightmare I can’t wake up from. I’m so sorry,” Langston said.

Mills said: “The damage you have done to the rule of law probably is the real tragedy in this case.”

Langston pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to corruptly influence Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, allegedly on Scruggs’ behalf.

Langston is the only person who has been charged in the DeLaughter case. The others deny wrongdoing. The investigation continues.

Langston was Scruggs’ lawyer, but he also became a target in the FBI’s investigation into alleged attempts to bribe two judges — DeLaughter, in central Mississippi, and Circuit Judge Henry Lackey in the northern part of the state.

Both alleged bribery schemes arose from cases in which other lawyers were suing Scruggs for a bigger share of fees from mass lawsuits.

In the Lafayette County case, Scruggs conspired to pay Lackey $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina cases. Lackey reported the scheme and wore a wire for the FBI.

In Hinds County, prosecutors say DeLaughter was enticed with a promise that he would be appointed to the federal bench with help from Scruggs’ brother-in-law, then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott. Lott, a Republican, retired from the Senate in December 2007 and has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Langston told prosecutors he arranged to pay $1 million to former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters for help winning DeLaughter’s favor. DeLaughter once worked for Peters as an assistant district attorney. Langston also said his former law partner, Timothy Balducci, and former Mississippi Auditor Steve Patterson, who is not an attorney, were involved in the conspiracy.

DeLaughter has been suspended from the bench pending the outcome of the investigation but neither he nor Peters have been charged with wrongdoing.

The following defendants have pleaded guilty to charges related to the Lafayette County bribery scheme: Scruggs; Balducci; Patterson; Scruggs’s son and law partner Zach; and another law partner, Sidney Backstrom. Balducci and Patterson have been cooperating with federal investigators and await sentencing.