Scruggs bribery evidence may come into other cases

Published 1:49 pm Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grand jury testimony and other evidence from the judicial corruption scheme that snagged former Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter could spill over into two other cases.

DeLaughter pleaded guilty July 30 to a federal obstruction charge in a case involving Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who was one of the most successful tort lawyers in the country before he went to federal prison.

Former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters was expected to testify that he illegally influenced DeLaughter when he presided over the Scruggs litigation and another civil lawsuit involving trade secrets, according to court records.

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Delaughter’s plea deal meant Peters never had to take the stand, but he had already testified before a grand jury.

U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson in north Mississippi ruled Monday the secret grand jury testimony and other materials can be handed over to U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour, in the southern district of Mississippi, and Hinds County Circuit Judge Swan Yerger.

Barbour and Yerger can decide if the information should be available in the cases in which they are presiding, both involving a trade secrets dispute between Eaton Corp. and Frisby Aerospace, now known as Triumph Actuation Systems.

Delaughter had been the judge in civil litigation between the companies before stepping down in January 2008. Yerger is now presiding over the lawsuit.

Barbour is the judge in a criminal case that accuses five former Eaton engineers of stealing aerospace information, then giving it to their new employer, Frisby. Frisby then began competing with Eaton for military and commercial contracts, according to the 2006 indictment.

Frisby attorneys claim Peters worked behind the scenes to influence DeLaughter and give Eaton an unfair advantage in the civil case.

“It’s what Ed Peters has said,” Frisby attorney Ed Blackmon said Tuesday. “The statements by Ed Peters were taken as credible by the government because they intended to use those in the DeLaughter trial.”

Eaton spokesman Don McGrath said Tuesday the company welcomes the ruling about Peters’ grand jury testimony to clarify the relationship of Peters and DeLaughter.

“We in no way hired him to influence Judge Delaughter or any other judge on Eaton’s behalf,” McGrath said. “We feel that our case is very strong, and I think the government’s case is very strong.”

If that’s the case, Blackmon said, Eaton could just share the information it already has about the relationship between Peters and Delaughter.

“Much of the information being sought is under the control of Eaton,” Blackmon said.

DeLaughter has not been charged in the trade secrets case. And he has long said his rulings followed the letter of the law in the Scruggs case.

Prosecutors in the Scruggs case, however, have said Scruggs exploited the friendship between Peters and DeLaughter to influence the judge in a dispute over millions in attorneys fees from asbestos cases.

Delaughter once worked for Peters in the district attorney’s office, and the two were friends. They made headlines in 1994 by successfully prosecuting Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, a feat loosely portrayed in the 1996 movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.”

DeLaughter awaits sentencing in the Scruggs case. Prosecutors recommended an 18-month sentence on the obstruction charge and dropped conspiracy and mail fraud charges.

Scruggs is serving a total of seven years in two judicial corruption cases, the one involving DeLaughter and another involving an attempt to bribe a LaFayette County judge over Hurricane Katrina legal fees.