WSJ story on feds’ look at Lott’s role in alleged attempt to influence DeLaughter

Good stuff here from Paulo Prada and Ashby Jones.  Here’s an excerpt:

Several people familiar with the situation say that associates of Mr. Scruggs told investigators that Mr. Scruggs relayed Judge Delaughter’s interest in the federal judgeship to then-Sen. Lott. In early 2006, Mr. Lott called the judge and discussed his interest in the federal bench, those people say. Seven months later, in August 2006, Judge Delaughter delivered a ruling widely considered favorable to Mr. Scruggs.

A month after that, President Bush nominated a Gulfport, Miss., lawyer named Halil "Sul" Ozerden to the vacant seat on the federal bench Mr. Delaughter had allegedly been interested in. People familiar with the process said Mr. Lott and Mississippi’s other U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, approved of the appointment. The full Senate confirmed Mr. Ozerden in April 2007.

A person familiar with Mr. Lott’s activities at the time confirmed he called Judge Delaughter, but said the call wasn’t made specifically at the behest of Mr. Scruggs. Mr. Lott routinely called "dozens of people" across Mississippi as a matter of Senate business, the person said.

Some questions about Lott’s knowledge or lack thereof (no pun intended, in this instance, at least). Was Bobby DeLaughter really someone who plausibly could have been nominated by George W. Bush? In other words, was he a reliably conservative Republican who is relatively young and could be expected to spend decades on the bench? What was his age and record relative to the eventual real nominee and others contacted by Lott?  (It is not unheard of for distinguished lawyers and judges who are not of a president’s party to be interviewed for the federal bench, but they are seldom selected unless as part of some political deal). 

Some more questions. We know Lott knew Scruggs, because Scruggs is his brother-in-law (Lott and Scruggs are married to sisters).  How much did Lott know about the Wilson case before Judge DeLaughter, the one with the allegedly suspect rulings that came after Lott’s expressed interest in DeLaughter for the federal bench?  Was he aware Scruggs had a case before DeLaughter? Did he personally know Bobs Wilson, Scruggs’ former partner who was suing over attorney fees? If so, in what classification would we place his phone call: (a) no problem, just one of those things, (b) stupid but no problem, just Lott being Lott, (c) somewhat of a problem or (d) Lotts of problems?

Also, what’s the right way to spell DeLaughter’s name? His bio from Hinds County spells it with a capital L.

That ruling mentioned in the Wall Street Journal story?  The one in August 2006?  I’ve got the transcript posted on this blog.  Check it out for yourself in this post.

UPDATE:  Scruggs’ defense lawyers say they will call Lott and DeLaughter as witnesses.  




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15 Responses to WSJ story on feds’ look at Lott’s role in alleged attempt to influence DeLaughter

  1. imjustice 4 all

    Not the way I have ever heard it. It is my understanding that Senator Cochran put a hold on teh delaughter nomination after some of the lawyers from the Wilson team heard a rumor about this happenoing as a payback to Delaughter for his ruling and tipped his office of to be on the lookout for his name. As you know any senator can place a hold on any judicial nomination from his state. As a result Sul, who is a good guy but was a very surpising choice to the legal community gets the nod. Yes Trent has known Wilosn for many years as Wilson used to live in Pascagoula.

  2. nomiss

    Question for someone out there who knows. Is there another Southern MS district court judicial seat that is authorized but still vacant?
    If so, could Lott have held that out to DeLaughter?

  3. mdc

    Question: Is “DeLaughter” pronounced to rhyme with “slaughter” or “laughter” as “lafter?”

  4. DeLaughter is pronounced with an “aw” sound as in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

  5. Anderson

    Lots of people get interviews w/ senators, AFAIK. I don’t think that shows very much. There’s nothing I’ve heard about DeLaughter’s actually going to the White House for an interview, for instance.
    Unless there’s some knowledge of a corrupt purpose by Lott, then this goes nowhere — tho lucky that Lott’s a Republican, b/c Bill Minor and Wes Teel are in jail for not much more.

  6. nomiss

    Anderson, I think you mean Paul Minor. And they were convicted of actual money influence. Don’t know how Scruggs got out of that one, or do I?

  7. bothered

    dear IMJustice:
    That is simply not true.

  8. LottsOLuck

    Is it more than coincidence that Senator Lott resigned on November 26 and his brother in law was indicted three days later by the feds? How could the good Senator, just re-elected the year before, be so fortunate to get out before the mess came rolling down?

  9. Anderson

    Ack, I do that Paul/Bill thing all the time.
    And there was money involved in that case, but it was a bit tenuous – campaign contributions to Teel, which are of course 100% legal, even when you’re appearing in front of that judge.
    I don’t see how offering (some step towards) a federal judgeship is materially different.

  10. also a lawyer

    Anderson, either you’re purposely mistating what Minor, Teel and Whitfield did or you really don’t know. Let’s not rehash it here b/c it’s over and done, but the bottom line is they concealed the “donations” through loans and third-parties and they went unreported. Less like contributions and more like money laundering of bribes. The jury wasn’t all republican either…

  11. Anderson

    Also, you might want to admit a third possibility. Would you care to point to the then-valid reporting requirements for those “unreported” donations/loans/whatever? And if they weren’t required to be reported, then …?

  12. injustice 4 all

    So if you make campaign loas to judges you are going to be indicted. Damn, there goes every big defense firm in the state. How about giving lawyers nonrefundable retainers of lets say 400-500k fees right before they run for judge and running lets asy about million in ads through 527s………..
    It’s time for some serious reflection on our system in my humble opinion. It is rotten to its core and no side is innocent.

  13. nomiss

    What’s the difference between an “unreported loan” to a judge ( a loan which the recipient is not expected to pay back and there is no written record of the loan) and money given to influence?
    If Minor’s donations were intended to be legal and on the up-and-up, why was there a middle-man, secrecy, etc.? I’m not a Republican, but, as the jury in the Minor case decided, Minor’s “donations” smelled.
    It is totally unfair to the regular hard-working ethical lawyers (and their clients) to have to compete in a legal climate in which such people as Minor and Scruggs play these games.

  14. also a lawyer

    Our system isn’t rotten. Some of the players in our system are rotten and we are finally in the process of weeding them out. I have practiced law for 17 years and neither I nor my clients have any complaints about “the system” but then again, I haven’t been opposite the ailse from Scruggs, Minor, et al. I know somone who was opposite of Minor in front of Whitfield and guess what, he and his client are getting a new trial (does the name Archie Marks ring a bell?). Many appeal bonds and multiple motions later, the system still seems to be working. Even Bob Wilson will probably tell you the system works in a couple of more years after he gets about $50 million from Scruggs….
    And no, campaign loans themselves aren’t illegal, but making them through a bag man, concealing them, never expecting them to be paid off or secretly paying them off for someone else with no intention of being repaid (while having cases in front of that judge) is a little bit illegal, don’t you think? Apparently a jury did! I guess in your mind, if Balducci had labeled the $40k he gave judge Lackey as a loan, it would be okay, even if it went unreported, was never paid back or was later paid off by another lawyer?!?! Please, I know some of you folks want this to be just part of some right-wing conspiracy, but wrong is wrong…

  15. Newt

    Of interest is the recent Mississippi Clarion Ledger article on Judge DeLaughter:
    It states that some people did try and influence Bobby DeLaughter on behalf of Scruggs in 2006 but that all his rulings followed the law, so he isn’t sure he was influenced.
    The article itself is an example of horrid reporting.