Saturday, February 14, 2009

Judicial Corruption Watch

Former Senator Trent Lott's name surfaces in the indictment of Mississippi state judge Bobby DeLaughter on allegations that he ruled favorably for a defendant in exchange for the defendant-noted attorney "Dickie" Scruggs"-using his connection to Lott to get DeLaughter a seat on the federal bench:

Scruggs, through the help of then-Sen. Trent Lott, Scruggs’s brother-in-law, promised to have DeLaughter considered for a federal judgeship in exchange for the favorable ruling.

Lott called DeLaughter, but ultimately tapped someone else for the open judgeship seat. Lott has not been charged in the case and has repeatedly denied wrongding, though his name does surface in the DeLaughter indictment.

From the indictment unsealed on Thursday:

On or about March 29, 2006, in order to exploit Judge DeLaughter’s aspirations to become a federal judge, Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs caused his brother-in-law, then a United States Senator from Mississippi, to offer Judge DeLaughter consideration for appointment to a federal judgeship then open in the Southern District of Mississippi.

Scruggs, who was sentenced to last summer to five years in prison for his part in a scheme to bribe another state judge, has already pleaded guilty for his part in this case. Scruggs was one of the attorneys involved in the massive tobacco lawsuit portrayed in the film "The Insider". Lott's connection to the case had already surfaced last week in a complaint filed by a former partner of Scruggs, who's original lawsuit was decided by DeLaughter in Scruggs' favor. I imagine we'll hear more about this case and Lott's involvement in it, as federal investigators appear to be working on that aspect of the case.

But that's just run-of-the-mill corruption compared to this next story:

Eastern Pennsylvania has a terrible reputation for judicial corruption and venality -- the stories one hears from practitioners and others around Philadelphia are truly awful, with bags full of money and all the rest. But a story in the NY Times today breaks new, and more nauseating, ground. Two judges in the Wilkes-Barre area have pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks -- $2.6 million worth -- from local juvenile detention centers for sentencing young offenders to time in the facility (the facilities were reimbursed by the state on a per-prisoner basis, so the more kids they had, the more money they earned). So dozens and dozens of kids who would ordinarily have expected to get a slap on the wrist -- for writing nasty things about their high school principals on Facebook, for starting fights in the playground, that sort of thing -- received sentences of several months in the detention facility instead, all, it turns out, to line the pockets of the judges.

According to the NY Times, one of the judges ordered the closure of the state-run juvenile facility, forcing county officials to send juveniles to newly built private facilities. They then received kickbacks for sending youth to the centers, in the form of payments to a shell corporation that the judges owned. According to the timeline I link to above one of the judges even ordered the sealing of a trade secrets suit initiated by the owners of the detention facilities so as to prevent the release of state audit results that revealed that the private facilities were a bad deal for Luzerne County, a ruling that was overturned by the State Superior court as “nothing more than a ruse to prevent public exposure.” In short, these were two nasty and corrupt individuals who abused their power to wrongfully deprive kids of their liberty. They both agreed to a plea deal that would send them to prison for 87 months, but the stocks sounds too good for them.

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