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Indicted Mississippi Judge Was Civil Rights Era Hero

A reputation as a legend, years of public service, all tainted by criminal charges.


By ADAM NOSSITER
New York Times

As a young prosecutor in the early 1990s, Bobby DeLaughter was a hero to the civil rights community, a white Mississippian who gambled with his future by pursuing an old race crime that many in the state simply wanted to forget. Mr. DeLaughter’s doggedness in prosecuting the white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith was celebrated in a Hollywood film and in books, and he was regarded as a model of probity.
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.
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