OXFORD — A former associate of imprisoned attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs has testified he opposed bribing a Hinds County judge because a friend of the jurist was feeding them information on a civil lawsuit over legal fees.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports the testimony of Steve Patterson, a former state auditor, came Monday in federal court in Oxford. Testimony was to continue today.
Scruggs is serving a seven-year sentence. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to one count of depriving the citizens of Mississippi of honest services from Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter.
Scruggs has argued that the limits imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court on so-called honest services fraud mean no juror would today convict him of the crime to which he pleaded guilty.
Prosecutors insist Scruggs broke the law when he promised to recommend DeLaughter for a federal judgeship. Scruggs said it was protected political speech.
Patterson testified that he thought it was “insane,” when he heard Scruggs agreed to telephone then-U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., to contact DeLaughter about the judgeship selection process.
“Why buy the cow when the milk’s free,” Patterson said, when asked why he reacted so negatively about Scruggs’ call. “The cow,” he said was DeLaughter, and “the milk” was his rulings in the legal fees lawsuit.
Patterson said that with the help of DeLaughter mentor Ed Peters, Scruggs’ legal team was getting what it sought — inside advice about how the lawsuit was progressing.
Peters, who was subpoenaed to testify, did not because attorneys acknowledged he is so deaf that any attempt to question him in a courtroom would prove problematic for both sides. Both sides agreed to use Peters’ FBI interviews and grand jury testimony as evidence to U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson.
Patterson said it was Peters’ idea to seek Scruggs’ help through Lott for a federal bench nomination.
“It was no secret that Bobby DeLaughter wanted to be a federal judge — everybody who knew him knew that,” Patterson said.
Lott testified for about an hour yesterday. He said he never gave DeLaughter any illusions DeLaughter would be suggested for a federal judgeship.
Of Scruggs, Lott said “he was not somebody I consulted” because they held different viewpoints about appointments. Lott said most of the Mississippi judicial appointments during this time were attorneys he or Sen. Thad Cochran had had on their short lists for a long time.
He recalled a conversation with Scruggs about DeLaughter’s interest in a judgeship and agreed to make a courtesy call, which he did later that day in late March 2006. Lott said nothing was offered to DeLaughter.
Patterson said from the beginning of Peters’ association with them on the legal fees case, the former Hinds County district attorney insisted that his former protege, DeLaughter, “would follow the law” wherever it took the lawsuit.
Patterson said he was aware of Lott’s phone call to DeLaughter, but said he never considered it one deed for another, “quid pro quo.”
“I thought it was a pretty stupid thing to do,” he said. “I thought it would spook the judge, that it wasn’t needed.”
Patterson said he believes DeLaughter’s rulings — that generally were to the Scruggs side’s liking — were not because of Peters’ pressure.
“I think he was following the law, but Ed’s relationship didn’t hurt,” Patterson said.