Zach Scruggs wants court to toss conviction

OXFORD — A well-known Mississippi lawyer is asking a federal appeals court to throw out his 2008 conviction and sentence.

Attorneys for Zach Scruggs asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to hear arguments in the case, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Scruggs pleaded guilty to knowing about — but not reporting — illegal contacts with a judge. Since his release from prison in 2010, he has insisted on his innocence, saying he was coerced into pleading guilty.

The case involved an attempt to bribe a Mississippi judge. In attempting to get the conviction thrown out, Scruggs said he only knew of an attempt to influence the judge, not bribery. In August U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers denied a motion to vacate the conviction.

In filings, Scruggs noted a Supreme Court case involving former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling, in which the high court limited the scope of the so-called honest services law, saying prosecutors can use the law only in cases where evidence shows the defendant accepted bribes or kickbacks.

In filings at the district court level, Scruggs had noted a Supreme Court case involving former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling, in which the high court limited the scope of the so-called honest services law, saying prosecutors can use the law only in cases where evidence shows the defendant accepted bribes or kickbacks.

“Petitioner claims that he is ‘actually innocent’ of the misprision of a felony conviction to which he pleaded guilty because he did not know about the bribe,” Biggers wrote in a long memorandum accompanying his ruling.

Biggers said Scruggs also argued that even if he did know about money paid to the judge, “he would have assumed that the payment was a gratuity and not a bribe.”

Biggers rejected the argument, along with claims by Scruggs of government coercion and ineffective assistance from his lawyer.

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