Monday, January 21, 2008

New York Times takes note of Mississippi Justice system

The Jan. 20 edition of The New York Times had a long feature on the Mississippi justice system and the saga of Dickie Scruggs and friends. Boy is this a mess. Everyone wondered why Trent Lott resigned suddenly from the Senate, but clearly the mess his brother-in-law is in must have weighed heavily on his mind. Here's the link: The Legal Trail in a Delta Drama.

Scruggs's defense may rely on the fact that the judge who was offered a bribe was repeatedly told that the bribe was not from Scruggs and that Scruggs did not know about the offer. Prosecutors apparently failed to inform the judge of this fact when getting an order for a wire tap, a tap which eventually gave them enough evidence to get guilty pleas from former state auditor Steve Patterson, New Albany attorney Tim Balducci and Booneville attorney Joey Langston. If this is indeed the case, then Scruggs may be able to argue that any testimony by Patterson, Balducci or Langston is "fruit of the poison tree" and not admissible in court.

Nobody wants to see anyone get off for any crime on a technicality, but after watching the Duke Lacrosse case from afar last year, I have little use for prosecutors who withhold information from judges in order to get warrants and wiretaps. I'm sure Scruggs will be well represented by counsel, so it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Unfortunately, Mississippi isn't going to look very good.

Meanwhile, in the rumor mill, the FBI supposedly sent out at least 51 "target" letters to Mississippi attorneys and perhaps judges last week, informing them that they are a target of investigation. I've heard numbers as high as 100, but 51 is the number that keeps cropping up, so I suspect that number is correct. Also, we need to remember that Dickie Scruggs and some of these other lawyers got rich representing the state of Mississippi in lawsuits, including the famous tobacco suit. Just how were they picked again? This could get really interesting and really ugly before it's over.

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