A coincidence, perhaps? Northern district Judge Shannon Aycock (Wilson v Scruggs) and southern district Judge Sul Ozerden (Young v Scruggs) each recused from a case involving Dick Scruggs in Orders dated October 15, 2009.
Wilson v Scruggs was filed in federal court in North Mississippi and assigned to Judge Neil Biggers. Shortly after Scruggs’ co-defendant Steve Patterson filed his Motion to Dismiss, Judge Biggers recused and the case was reassigned to Judge Shannon Aycock.
However, Judge Aycock filed a Waiver of Judicial Disqualification with the Clerk:
Unless a waiver is obtained from all parties and all counsel, Judge Aycock intends to disqualify in this proceeding because of these circumstances:
Judge Aycock’s Courtroom Deputy, Ginger McDaniel Sullivan, worked as a
paralegal with the Wm. Roberts Wilson, Jr. P.A., law firm in Jackson, Mississippi, from June 2001 to February 2005. In that position, Sullivan worked under the direction of William Roberts Wilson, Jr., Charles M. Merkel, III, and Roberts Wilson, Jr. During her employment, Sullivan was familiar with and worked on issues in the lawsuit Wilson vs. Scruggs, et al, First Judicial District of Hinds County Circuit Court. This litigation was pending when she began her employment and was not resolved as of the date she left the firm…
If a waiver is not received from all parties and all counsel, this Notice and any responses will be kept under seal by the clerk and not shown to the judge, nor will the judge be informed of the identity of any party or lawyer who declined to waive the disqualification. If the disqualification is not waived, the case will be reassigned to another judge.
Apparently waivers were not received from all parties as Judge Aycock recused and issued a related Order dated October 15, 2009.
It is hereby ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court is directed to transfer and re-assign this cause as directed by the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Mississippi.
There was no order transferring Wilson v Scruggs; however, that was not the case in Young v Scruggs after Judge Ozerden’s recusal in a text only Order also issued October 15, 2009.
Transferring a Scruggs’ case to Judge Starrett brings with it the potential for yet another recusal – or should.
Starrett was the U.S. Chamber – backed candidate who ran for the Mississippi State Supreme Court seat held by Oliver Diaz in the 2000 statewide election cycle.
In November 2000, four of the nine positions on the Mississippi Supreme Court were up for election. Less than one month before the election, the Chamber ran four thirty-second television advertisements, each extolling the virtues of a different candidate running for a position on the court. The advertisements featured three incumbents (former Chief Justice Lenore Prather, Justice Kay Cobb, and Justice James Smith) and one challenger (Judge Keith Starrett).
Although Diaz emerged the victor, he was subsequently indicted by U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton.
In the Supreme Court election, Diaz had faced stiff opposition from a Mississippi trial judge named Keith Starrett, who had been backed by G.O.P. interests.
Starrett’s mentor and friend, who took a deep interest in his election campaign, was none other that U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, and Starrett’s law secretary was Donna Lampton, a close relative of the prosecutor.
Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee noted Starrett’s position in the web of connections.
A web of connections exists between the judges, lawyers, politicians and investigators involved in a Mississippi judicial-corruption probe, raising questions about the fairness and thoroughness of the investigation and about possible conflicts of interest…
Scruggs, who has cases pending before the state Supreme Court, arranged and financed the payoff of an $80,000 loan for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. Scruggs claims it was a campaign loan. Diaz also lived for a while at a Biloxi condominium partly owned by Scruggs…
In 2000, Keith Starrett, a friend of Lampton and a former assistant district attorney, ran against Justice Diaz, whom Lampton is now investigating…
All of these events predate SLABBED but some claim they are the tip of an iceberg. However, there is also Starrett’s comment to consider:
Judicial ethics are very important to me and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety is crucial to the public perception that our system of justice is fair.
He walked that talk in his Order when he recused from State Farm v Hood – as well he should have under 28 U.S.C. § 455:
Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States
shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality
might reasonably be questioned.
However, the present question is will he walk the talk again and recuse from Young v Scruggs.