Judge won’t throw out charges in DeLaughter case

Published 1:42 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

A federal judge has refused to dismiss several charges against Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who is accused of trading favorable rulings for consideration for a seat on the federal bench.

U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson refused in a ruling Monday to dismiss a conspiracy charge and three counts of mail fraud. DeLaughter also is charged with obstruction.

DeLaughter, noted for a high-profile prosecution of a white supremacist in the 1990s, denies doing anything wrong. Trial is set for August.

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Prosecutors, however, said the imprisoned former lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs influenced DeLaughter in a civil case by promising to help him get appointed to the federal judgeship with help from his brother-in-law, then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.

Scruggs, a chief architect of the multibillion-dollar tobacco settlements of the 1990s, is serving a total of seven years for his role in two alleged bribery conspiracies, one involving a different judge. He’s cooperating with authorities.

DeLaughter’s lawyer had argued in a motion to dismiss the charges that Lott made a “meaningless courtesy call” to Delaughter about and open seat on the federal bench and the judge was never offered anything of value.

“If this 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, there is no crime at all, much less a federal felony offense,” DeLaughter’s attorneys had argued.

The government said consideration for a seat on the federal bench is, in itself, a thing of value.

Lott has not been charged with wrongdoing. He acknowledged calling DeLaughter about the open seat on the federal bench but recommended someone else for the job.

DeLaughter made headlines in 1994 by successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The case was portrayed in the 1996 movie “Ghosts of Mississippi” and DeLaughter wrote a book about the trial.

DeLaughter has been suspended from the bench pending outcome of the case.