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Power, Greed, and Hubris

Judicial Bribery in Mississippi

James R. Crockett

Publication Year: 2014

From 2003 to 2009 sensational judicial bribery scandals rocked Mississippi's legal system. Famed trial lawyers Paul Minor and Richard (Dickie) Scruggs and renowned judge and former prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter proved to be the nexus of these scandals. Seven attorneys and a former state auditor were alleged to have attempted to bribe or to have actually bribed five state judges to rule in favor of Minor and Scruggs in several lawsuits. This is the story of how federal authorities, following up on information provided by a bank examiner and a judge who could not be bribed, toppled Minor, Scruggs, and their enablers in what was exposed as the most significant legal scandal of twenty-first-century Mississippi.

James R. Crockett details the convoluted schemes that eventually put three of the judges, six of the attorneys, and the former auditor in federal prison. All of the men involved were successful professionals and three of them, Minor, Scruggs, and fellow attorney Joey Langston, were exceptionally wealthy. The stories involve power, greed, but most of all hubris. The culprits rationalized abominable choices and illicit actions to influence judicial decisions. The crimes came to light in those six years, but some crimes were committed before that. These men put themselves above the law and produced the perfect storm of bribery that ended in disgrace.

The tales Crockett relates about these scandals and the actions of Paul Minor and Richard Scruggs are almost unbelievable. Individuals willingly became their minions in power plays designed to distort the very rule of law that most of them had sworn to uphold.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

This work was in progress for more than seven years, and many people graciously contributed. I thank all of those who answered my many questions and provided documents and encouragement along the way. I especially thank the following individuals who made major contributions and without whom my efforts would have come up short on too many...

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Preface

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pp. xi-2

In his book Highly Confident, about the fall and jailing of junk bond king Michael Milken, Jesse Kornbluth observed:

In finance, as in any enterprise, character is destiny; motivation, relationships, and personality are perhaps even more important than numbers and dollars. . . .
What was Michael thinking?
From 2003 to 2009 sensational judicial bribery scandals that rocked Mississippi’s legal system gradually unfolded before a stunned...

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1. Did Attorney Paul Minor Seek Unfair Advantages by Bribery?

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pp. 3-26

The federal mail and wire fraud law includes the following sentence: “For the purposes of this chapter, the term, scheme or artifice to defraud includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” In essence, this “honest services” law means that public servants are expected to perform their duties honestly and not to be bought off or to provide...

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2. Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield: The Second Trial

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pp. 27-50

The bad news for Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield was not long in coming. In August 2005 Judge Henry Wingate gave federal prosecutors a September deadline to determine whether they would retry the three men. At a September 16 hearing, prosecutors announced that they would retry all three of the defendants. Only John Whitfield appeared at the hearing because of...

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3. The Diazes’ Income Tax Follies

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pp. 51-58

As noted in chapter 1, Jennifer Diaz pleaded guilty to evading income tax in a plea bargain with prosecutors. She had filed joint tax returns with her husband, Oliver Diaz. What was the rest of the story? It turns out that the Diazes’ income tax follies are ripe with irony.
Oliver and Jennifer Diaz were indicted on three counts by a federal grand jury on March 22, 2005. The couple was charged...

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4. The Appeals of Minor, Teel, and Whitfield

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pp. 59-70

Although convicted felons Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield went to prison, their legal cases did not go away quietly. Minor had the money to finance appeals, and he did not hesitate to use it. The appeals dragged on for years and produced some very unusual results.
Paul Minor’s 146-page appeal filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on June 18, 2008, included...

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5. The Enigma That Is Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs

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pp. 71-93

Attorney Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs led a remarkably successful life prior to his indictment in the fall of 2007 for attempting to bribe Mississippi circuit judge Henry L. Lackey. Professionally and financially, the famed lawyer was an all-American success story, a self-made man.
Richard Scruggs was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, on May 17, 1946. His father abandoned the family when...

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6. The Undoing of Dickie Scruggs

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pp. 94-118

Hurricane Katrina changed everything for Dickie Scruggs. When Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005 and destroyed Scruggs’s home, he had already moved his law practice from Pascagoula to Oxford. Katrina caused hundreds of disputes between homeowners and insurance companies and afforded an opportunity for lawyers to pursue potentially lucrative class...

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7. Jones v. Scruggs and the Rise and Fall of the Scruggs Katrina Group

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pp. 119-129

Hurricane Katrina destroyed billions of dollars worth of property and hundreds of human lives. It also spawned a chain of events that shook the judicial system in Mississippi to its core. Dickie Scruggs’s home in Pascagoula was in the path of the storm, and his legal career and the careers of several of his associates were soon washed away in its wake.
A November 8, 2005, joint...

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8. The Odd Couple: Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson

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pp. 130-140

Before Scruggs I, Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson appeared to be joined at the hip. They had worked together at the Langston Law Firm, and they were in business together. Their skills seemed to be complementary. Actually, they were an odd couple who took winding roads to their involvement with Dickie Scruggs and to prison.
Born in 1967, Timothy R. Balducci grew up in...

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9. Who Is Judge Henry Lackey?

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pp. 141-148

Henry L. Lackey was born and raised in Calhoun City, Mississippi, where he graduated from Calhoun City High School in 1952. He earned a B.S. in business administration from Mississippi College in 1956 and returned home to run his family business, the Ben Franklin Store. A member of the Mississippi National Guard, he was activated into the U.S. Army in 1961–1962. After being...

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10. Sentencing of the Scruggs I Defendants

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pp. 149-167

By March 2008 all five of the Scruggs I defendants had pleaded guilty to felonies related to the attempt to bribe Judge Henry Lackey in Jones v. Scruggs. There had been no trials; all five men had entered into plea agreements with U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee. Soon it was time to pay the piper.
Federal rules regarding plea agreements provide that a plea agreement may specify...

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11. Joey Langston Violates His Own Rule

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pp. 168-182

What can happen when a highly competent and hugely successful attorney violates professional ethics, the law, and a rule that he had impressed on others? The Joey Langston story aptly demonstrates that one can quickly go from the mountaintop to convicted felon and along the way be disgraced and disbarred.
Joseph Cashe “Joey” Langston was six years old when his family moved...

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12. The Bobby DeLaughter Tragedy

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pp. 183-203

Something in Judge Bobby DeLaughter’s life simply would not go away. His actions in Wilson v. Scruggs were like the bad penny that keeps coming back. They festered until they burst, destroying his carefully constructed reputation and successful career that had not come close to exhausting its potential.
Bobby B. DeLaughter was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1954. He...

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13. Bobby DeLaughter Lied

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pp. 204-214

The July 27, 2009, conference call that involved prosecutors and defense attorneys resulted in a July 28 plea bargain that sealed Bobby DeLaughter’s fate. The agreement called for DeLaughter to plead guilty to Count 5 of the indictment, which charged him with obstructing, influencing, and impeding an official federal corruption investigation and grand jury proceedings. In exchange for...

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14. The Scruggs-Luckey-Wilson Legal Entanglement: Will This Thing Ever End?

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pp. 215-230

An almost unbelievable sequence of events landed Bobby DeLaughter and Joey Langston in prison and added years to the prison time Dickie Scruggs would serve. The saga unfolded over about a decade and a half and cost Dickie Scruggs not only additional prison time but millions of dollars as well. Understanding Scruggs II requires examination of the Scruggs-Luckey-Wilson...

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15. Presley L. “P. L.” Blake and Edward J. Peters: The Teflon Men

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pp. 231-241

P. L. Blake and Ed Peters have frequently appeared in these pages in less than flattering lights, but they have yet to be charged with any wrongdoing. Nothing seems to stick to them. Their skins seem to be made of Teflon. What is known about Blake and Peters raises more questions than answers.
In mid-December 2007 the Biloxi Sun Herald ran two articles by Anita...

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16. Zach and Dickie Scruggs’s Appeals

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pp. 242-258

In the summer of 2010 Zach Scruggs was a free man and was said to be harboring the hope of getting his license to practice law reinstated. In June 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Skilling v. United States that prosecutors had used the federal “honest services” statute improperly to deprive some defendants of their right to due process under the First Amendment. The court...

Sources

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pp. 259-270

Index

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pp. 271-276


E-ISBN-13: 9781617039188
E-ISBN-10: 1621039978
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039976

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014

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Subject Headings

  • Practice of law -- Corrupt practices -- Mississippi.
  • Judicial corruption -- Mississippi.
  • Trials (Bribery) -- Mississippi.
  • Scruggs, Dickie -- Trials, litigation, etc.
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