“I’m pleased to see another of the wrongdoers brought to justice,” said Wilson’s lawyer, Charlie Merkel of Clarksdale, who attended today’ss hearing. “I can’t imagine a more despicable act by a judicial official.”
DeLaughter’s plea shows that the story told by then-lawyers Joey Langston and Tim Balducci is true, he said.
Wilson and another former law partner, Alwyn Luckey, sued Scruggs in 1994 for legal fees they say Scruggs owed them from asbestos litigation. In 2005, a federal magistrate judge ordered Scruggs to pay $17 million to Luckey.
The next year, a special master in Hinds County Circuit Court recommended Scruggs also owed back legal fees to Wilson, prompting Wilson’s lawyers to ask for $15 million.
In recent sworn testimony, Balducci described how they retained Peters to influence DeLaughter and how they would send possible pleadings to Peters — only to get back marked up copies for revisions.
DeLaughter eventually rejected the special master’s recommendation, concluding Scruggs owed Wilson no more than a belated $1.5 million payment.
Balducci said DeLaughter ruled in the end that Scruggs owed zero, despite a lack of any documentation.
“If you look back, in the history of that case, the boxes and boxes, and volumes of documents in that case and all of the orders issued by Judge DeLaughter in that case, that order, singularly, is the only order that he ever entered with no support, no reasoning, no grounds, no basis,” Balducci said.
DeLaughter is expected to lose his law license and his seat on the bench. He has been suspended with pay from the bench since March 2008 pending an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Performance. His judicial salary is more than $104,000.
Peters, who received $1 million from Scruggs for his work, received immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against DeLaughter, whom he once joined forces with to prosecute Beckwith. As part of his cooperation, Peters turned over $425,000 remaining from the $1 million along with his law license.
Matt Steffey, professor of Mississippi College School of Law, is among those angered that Peters — who has endured his share of investigations and charges — has dodged a conviction again.
He believes what’s happened to DeLaughter resembles a Shakespearean tragedy. “Unlike the other players in this drama, he did not gain great wealth,” he said.
Instead, DeLaughter’s flaw was misplaced loyalty, he said. “Many people see it as tragic because but for his longtime friend and mentor, Ed Peters, initiating unlawful activity, Judge DeLaughter would remain a public servant.”
It was loyalty Peters himself did not display, he said. “When push came to shove, he was willing to implicate his friend in order to avoid prison time himself.”