Civil Rights Hero, Now a Judge, Is Indicted in a Bribery Case

This week though, Mr. DeLaughter, now a Mississippi judge, suffered an abrupt reversal of fortune: he appeared in leg irons and handcuffs in federal court in Oxford, Miss., pleading not guilty to a federal indictment accusing him of unduly favoring the celebrated former plaintiffs’ lawyer Richard Scruggs, now serving seven years for efforts to influence judges, including Mr. DeLaughter.

Judge DeLaughter has been caught in a bribery scandal that has rocked the legal establishment in his home state, and brought low some of its leading figures. The millions that Mr. Scruggs gained in asbestos and tobacco litigation have sloshed over an impoverished state, continuing to taint public officials and lawyers, figures likely and unlikely. On Friday, a former Mississippi state auditor, Steve Patterson, was sentenced for his part in a Scruggs-inspired scheme, a day after Judge DeLaughter’s own court appearance.

One of the unlikeliest figures is Judge DeLaughter, 15 years ago the belated avenger of one of the nation’s great 1960s civil rights martyrs, Medgar Evers. In 1994, against big odds and the passage of more than 30 years since the killing of Mr. Evers, the young assistant district attorney put together a solid case against Mr. Beckwith that resulted in the old Klansman’s conviction decades after the crime.

New York Times
2/14/9