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Power, Greed, and Hubris

Power, Greed, and Hubris: Judicial Bribery in Mississippi

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 288
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    Power, Greed, and Hubris
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-997-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Did Attorney Paul Minor Seek Unfair Advantages by Bribery?
    (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 an unfair advantage to any of the parties they deal with in their official capacities. The law formed the foundation for a Mississippi judicial bribery case that began to wend its way through the federal...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield: The Second Trial
    (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 problems related to Hurricane Katrina and the September 15 death of Minor’s father-in-law.

    The prosecutors could not say whether the three would be tried on the original charges or if new indictments would be sought to “clean up”...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Diazes’ Income Tax Follies
    (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 with willfully filing false tax returns for tax years 1999, 2000, and 2001. They were accused of claiming taxable income of only $31,550 in 1999 when the correct...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Appeals of Minor, Teel, and Whitfield
    (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 the following in its “Summary of the Argument.”

    There are many reasons that this Court should have concerns about the reliability, integrity, and lawfulness of the conviction and the sentence of Paul...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Enigma That Is Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs
    (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 he was five, and with the help of family his mother, Helen, raised him in Brookhaven and Pascagoula. Helen Scruggs, a Millsaps College alumna, worked at Ingalls shipyard as a legal secretary. Because he was a competitive swimmer, Scruggs transferred...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Undoing of Dickie Scruggs
    (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 action lawsuits against insurers. Scruggs was not long in taking advantage of the situation. In November 2005 he formed the Scruggs Katrina Group (SKG), a joint venture with several other lawyers. SKG represented homeowners in their disputes with insurers.

    By early 2007 SKG had negotiated a settlement...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Jones v. Scruggs and the Rise and Fall of the Scruggs Katrina Group
    (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 venture agreement among five parties established the Scruggs Katrina Group (SKG). The agreement states the venture’s purpose: “It is contemplated that this venture will bring a number of law-suits on behalf of individuals...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Odd Couple: Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson
    (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 Shelby, Mississippi, the son of a Delta banker. Balducci received a B.A. degree with honors from Delta State University in 1989 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi in 1991. He began a legal...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Who Is Judge Henry Lackey?
    (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 discharged from the army, Lackey went to law school at the University of Mississippi, graduating in 1966.

    Lackey opened a law practice in Calhoun City, where he practiced for twenty-six years handling all manner of cases....

  14. CHAPTER 10 Sentencing of the Scruggs I Defendants
    (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 that an attorney for the government will:

    (A) not bring, or will move to dismiss, other charges;

    (B) recommend, or agree not to oppose, the defendant’s request that a particular sentence or sentencing range...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Joey Langston Violates His Own Rule
    (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 in 1964 from Clinton to Booneville, Mississippi. His father, Joe Ray Langston, had just graduated from law school in Jackson and moved to the northeast Mississippi city to establish a law practice. The Langston law practice soon flourished....

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Bobby DeLaughter Tragedy
    (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 graduated from Wingfield High School in Jackson, where he served as student body president. DeLaughter went to the University of Mississippi and graduated from its law school. He practiced law in Jackson for ten years before becoming a prosecutor. In 1994,...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Bobby DeLaughter Lied
    (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 the guilty plea, the government was to dismiss the other four counts following sentencing. Count 5 carried maximum penalties of twenty years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or both. The plea agreement called for a sentence of eighteen months in...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Scruggs-Luckey-Wilson Legal Entanglement: Will This Thing Ever End?
    (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 fight over attorneys’ fees.

    In the 1980s Richard Scruggs was a member of Asbestos Group, P.A., along with Alwyn Luckey and William Roberts Wilson Jr. The association processed liability lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers and others. Legal disputes over proceeds from the group’s...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Presley L. “P. L.” Blake and Edward J. Peters: The Teflon Men
    (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 Lee that explored how Richard Scruggs had spread money around. Much of the information about payments made by Scruggs surfaced in testimony given in Luckey v. Scruggs and Wilson v. Scruggs, in which Alwyn Luckey...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Zach and Dickie Scruggs’s Appeals
    (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 ruled that the charges against some defendants had been too vague in that the charges often did not cite specific actions that the defendants should have known were illegal, such as bribery and kickbacks....

  21. Sources
    (pp. 259-270)
  22. Index
    (pp. 271-276)