Peters denies allegations in civil case

Published 8:46 pm Thursday, May 28, 2009

Former Mississippi District Attorney Ed Peters has denied allegations that he was involved in a scheme with imprisoned attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and others to defraud an Alabama lawyer out of millions in legal fees.

Scruggs and William Roberts Wilson Jr., of Tuscaloosa, Ala., once worked together suing asbestos companies.

Wilson has claimed Scruggs cheated him out of money and used it to fund a batch of landmark anti-tobacco lawsuits in the 1990s, in which Scruggs reportedly earned as much as $848 million. Wilson sued for a cut.

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In a civil lawsuit filed in March in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Wilson accused Scruggs and others of racketeering by conspiring to bribe a judge presiding over the dispute dealing with the asbestos fees. Scruggs has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Peters is among those named in the lawsuit along with Scruggs. In his written response, Peters repeatedly denies the allegations or asserts that he is doesn’t know enough about them to form an opinion.

Peters makes the same responses to Wilson’s allegations that he was involved in a scheme to influence Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who presided over Wilson’s civil case in state court.

Peters did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

DeLaughter is not named as a defendant in Wilson’s lawsuit. However, DeLaughter has been accused in a separate federal criminal case of exchanging favorable rulings — including one in Wilson’s state court civil case — for a seat on the federal bench. He has pleaded not guilty and denies doing anything wrong. Trial is set for August.

Scruggs is serving a five-year sentence for conspiring to bribe a state judge in a legal fee dispute over Hurricane Katrina lawsuits. His associates — New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci, Booneville attorney Joey Langston and former Mississippi Auditor Steve Patterson — took plea bargains in the case and pointed investigators to other alleged crimes, including the asbestos case in Hinds County.

Scruggs has denied he tried to influence DeLaughter. Langston is the only person who has been charged publicly in the DeLaughter case. He pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to corruptly influence DeLaughter and was sentenced to three years. His prison reporting date has been postponed so he can help investigators in the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors say Scruggs, Peters, Langston, Balducci and Patterson conspired to influence DeLaughter by promising that U.S. Sen. Trent Lott would help him get appointed to a federal judgeship. One of Lott’s duties as a senator was to recommend nominees for federal judgeships.

Lott, now retired, did call DeLaughter about a vacancy in the federal court system, but ultimately recommended someone else for the position.

Langston allegedly paid Peters a total of $1 million for helping persuade DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs’ favor, court records allege. Peters has not been charged, but he gave up his law license and federal agents seized $425,000 — apparently what was left of the $1 million payment, court records show.

DeLaughter once worked for Peters as an assistant district attorney. They are best known for successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith in 1994 for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Peters spent nearly 30 years as district attorney before retiring in 2001.

Also named in Wilson’s lawsuit are Scruggs’ convicted son Zach; 10 “John Does” and two law firms associated with Scruggs.