NY Times on Scruggs, again

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2008

Yesterday’s extensive New York Times piece by Nelson D. Schwartz, the lead story in the paper’s Sunday business section, once again (see Dec. 9) provides strong overall perspective on the scandal, along with tidbits that will be new to all but the most obsessed (or most locally knowledgeable) followers of the affair. It focuses in particular on ever-more-central scandal figure P.L. Blake, sometimes known as the $50 million man, of whom we learn:

In interviews, other Mississippi political figures suggest that Mr. Blake has played a key role for Mr. Scruggs over the years. “P. L. essentially has done all the back-room negotiating for Dickie, but you’ll never see his tracks,” says Pete Johnson, a former state auditor who is now co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, a federal agency with headquarters in Clarksdale, Miss. …“He was the nexus of his political network.”

Incidentally, and presumably unrelatedly, former Times insurance-beat reporter Joseph Treaster, whose profiles of Scruggs in years past I’ve had occasion to blast as epically credulous, is departing the paper to teach journalism at the University of Miami, per Romenesko.

Anita Lee of the Biloxi Sun-Herald is also out with another good background piece, including the results of inquiries into a topic of widespread interest, namely the circumstances under which Judge Bobby DeLaughter’s name was not put forward for a federal judgeship even though (according to prosecutors) such a prospect had been dangled by conspirators hoping to improperly influence his rulings on a key Scruggs fee case:

Sen. Thad Cochran’s office told the Sun Herald that DeLaughter’s name was one of those mentioned for the appointment, but would not say which candidates Lott and Cochran privately discussed to recommend to President Bush. The office said Cochran wants to respect the privacy of candidates for the position. … Government evidence indicates DeLaughter e-mailed at least one order to Peters so he could pass it along for pre-approval from Scruggs’ attorneys.

Investigators are presumably taking an interest in confirming the account of Sen. Lott, who is Scruggs’s brother-in-law, that he raised DeLaughter’s name only as a brief and passing “courtesy” as opposed to making a serious effort on the candidate’s behalf (more). And a commenter at Folo points to a passage deep in the now-fabled Luckey transcript which is highly suggestive as to the possible ways in which a large share of P.L. Blake’s millions in tobacco fees might not have remained for long in Mr. Blake’s possession (more).

Earlier coverage can be found on our scandals page.

{ 3 comments }

1 Supremacy Claus 01.21.08 at 2:42 am

Here is a question for the US DOJ.

If a civil settlement resulted from a crime, should the settlement money be returned by the States, with interest? As a matter of policy.

2 James Canning 01.21.08 at 7:09 pm

This Scruggs matter will generate a major motion picture, I should think. The possible use of a potential federal judgeship as a reward needs the most careful scrutiny that can be brought to bear on it.
Great piece!

3 Keith Terrance 01.22.08 at 10:48 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/19/us/19death.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

Check out the NY Time s article on a defense lawyer who, on the advise of his bar association’s ethics advisers, kept quiet about perjury by his client, and the coaching and suborning of perjury by the DAs.

“Lawyer Reveals Secret, Toppling Death Sentence”

“For 10 years, Leslie P. Smith, a Virginia lawyer, reluctantly kept a secret because the authorities on legal ethics told him he had no choice, even though his information could save the life of a man on death row, one whose case had led to a landmark Supreme Court decision.

“Mr. Smith believed that prosecutors had committed brazen misconduct by coaching a witness and hiding it from the defense, but the Virginia State Bar said he was bound by legal ethics rules not to bring up the matter. He shared his qualms and pangs of conscience with only one man, Timothy G. Clancy, who had worked on the case with him.

“Clancy and I, when we were alone together, would reminisce about this and more or less renew our vows of silence,” Mr. Smith told a judge last month. “We felt that there was nothing that could be done.”

But the situation changed last year, when Mr. Smith took one more run at the state bar’s ethics counsel. “I was upset by the conduct of the prosecutor,” Mr. Smith wrote in an anguished letter, “and the situation has bothered me ever since.””
and the article continues from there.

Clear subornation of perjury in my opinion.

““As he began to describe the positions of the individuals and the firing of the shots,” Mr. Smith said last month, referring to his client, a prosecutor “reached over and stopped the tape recorder.” According to Mr. Smith’s testimony and a memorandum he prepared soon after the debriefing, the prosecutor, Cathy E. Krinick, said, “Les, do you see we have a problem here?”

The problem was that Mr. Jones’s account did not match the physical evidence. “This isn’t going to do us any good,” Ms. Krinick said, according to Mr. Smith.

For 15 minutes, Mr. Smith said, prosecutors coaxed and coached Mr. Jones to produce testimony against Mr. Atkins that did match the evidence. They flipped over a table and pretended it was a truck. “We used a chair, or something like that, to simulate the open door,” Mr. Smith testified, “because only one of the doors on the truck would open.”

When the tape was turned back on, Mr. Jones’s story bolstered the case against Mr. Atkins as the triggerman. The Atkins defense did not learn of the coaching session for a decade, when Mr. Smith was freed from his ethical obligation not to prejudice his own client’s case. Mr. Jones was sentenced to life in prison, and his case is concluded.”

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