Judge to allow testimony of witnesses

Published 6:29 pm Thursday, March 17, 2011

A federal judge will allow Zach Scruggs to call all the witnesses he wants during an April 25 hearing on Scruggs’ motion to overturn his conviction in a judicial bribery case.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers  issued the order Wednesday.

Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty in 2008 to knowing about a felony and not reporting it. He now claims the U.S. Supreme Court has limited the scope of the honest services fraud statute that was the underlying crime. He was released from a halfway house in August 2009 after serving a 14-month sentence. He has filed the motion seeking to clear his name in August, and eliminate the terms of his supervised release and refund the $250,000 in fines or fees he paid.

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Scruggs claims he was convicted of knowing about “earwhigging,” or attempting to influence a judge behind the scenes, not bribery. He says the Supreme Court has limited honest services fraud to bribery and kickback schemes.

In the motion, Zach Scruggs said he had no knowledge of the bribery scheme.

He has admitted knowing about a conversation another attorney had with Judge Henry Lackey in a lawsuit over $26 million in legal fees. Prosecutors had said attorneys offered to pay Lackey $40,000 for a favorable ruling.

Several attorneys pleaded guilty in the judicial bribery case, including Dickie Scruggs; New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci, who had the conversation with the judge and delivered cash to him; and former State Auditor Steve Patterson.

Biggers, in his order, said “testimony will be given by live witnesses who have personal knowledge of the facts on the issues raised.”

Scruggs wanted to question at least a dozen potential witnesses, including his father, under oath before they got to the hearing and to bring in new evidence, as well as secure government admissions about certain aspects of the case. Prosecutors opposed the action.

Biggers’ order says his court hasn’t received any names to subpoena yet.

In earlier documents, Scruggs insisted that certain information wasn’t available to his attorneys or even existed when he pleaded guilty.

“The alleged ‘new’ evidence did ‘exist’ at the time of the guilty plea,” Biggers wrote Wednesday. It “simply was not known by the petitioner at the time.”