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Scruggs trial reconvenes as prosecution gathers witnesses

Quentin Winstine

The Dickie Scruggs hearing was adjourned early yesterday afternoon following the testimonies of six witnesses, including that of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The hearing is scheduled to resume today when the defense will question more witnesses.
Scruggs, previously one of the premier trial lawyers in the nation, is accused of allegedly using his relationship with retired Sen. Lott to influence Judge Bobby DeLaughter to take his side on a trial involving Hurricane Katrina deposition claims DeLaughter was ruling over.
Before Lott became involved, former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters was allegedly paid $1 million by Scruggs to join his team of attorneys for the same case.
It is well known that Peters and DeLaughter have a close relationship, according to the prosecution. Scruggs wanted Peters on his legal team to influence DeLaughter’s decision and get an inside scoop on the case.
Before DeLaughter gave away any information, he wanted assurance that Scruggs’ legal team would help him gain a seat as a federal judge. This is where Lott became involved.
Scruggs and Lott are brothers-in-law, and Lott claims they have kept a personal and business friendship during the length of their relationship. At the time of the aforementioned case, Lott was in the Senate. While working with Sen. Thad Cochran, one of Lott’s responsibilities was to make recommendations for federal judges to be appointed.
The prosecution wants to prove that Scruggs used his relationship with Lott to help DeLaughter obtain a seat as a federal judge.
On March 29, 2006, there was a telephone conversation between Lott and DeLaughter regarding federal judge openings in Mississippi. In his testimony yesterday, Lott swears the conversation between and DeLaughter and him was completely professional.
Lott claims judges often contact him on how the selection process works for federal judges and that this call was no different. He said he never once told DeLaughter that he would recommend him and that there was no “favorable consideration.” The evidence of the phone call might be in question, but there was another person present while the conversation took place.
One of Lott’s advisors at the time was in his office while he was talking to DeLaughter. Hugh Gamble, now a legislative director for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, recalled the phone call and in his testimony claimed that it “wasn’t remarkable.” He went on to say that the call lasted four to five minutes and that he never once heard Lott guarantee DeLaughter a federal judge appointment.
Following a few more testimonies from various people involved, one of the witnesses subpoenaed did not show up. Peters was granted to pass on his testimony in the case. While he was legally obliged to present his testimony, his lawyer came to the hearing early and claimed he was too audibly disabled to give a proper testimony. Both sides agreed Peters was too disabled to testify. Instead, they will use Peters’ testimony that was documented at a previous trial regarding the original case.
Following the testimonies, the hearing was recessed until today when the defense will attempt to examine more witnesses.
Scruggs is currently appealing the second count of two bribery counts, which is the one being heard this week. It can potentially be removed depending on the ruling by Judge Gary Davidson.
Scruggs was born in Brookhaven and is an alumnus of the University of Mississippi School of Law. In his time as a trial lawyer, Scruggs represented multiple high-profile cases involving Ritalin, asbestos, the tobacco industry and Hurricane Katrina.
He is now being detained at the Lafayette County Detention Center while he awaits his hearing later this morning.