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Mississippi judge who uncovered lawyer bribes dies at 83

 

Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

 

 

JACKSON -- A Mississippi judge who helped bring down famed tobacco lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs on bribery allegations has died. 

 

Court system spokeswoman Beverly Kraft said 83-year-old Henry Lackey had been hospitalized for heart problems, dying Friday at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Calhoun City. 

 

In 2007 Lackey was approached by friend Timothy Balducci. He asked Lackey to rule for Scruggs in a suit where other lawyers were suing Scruggs over $26.5 million in disputed legal fees. 

 

John Hailman, then a federal prosecutor, said Lackey contacted him after the meeting. Hailman said the FBI set up a video surveillance system concealed in a briefcase on Lackey's desk to record multiple meetings with Balducci, in which Lackey collected $40,000 in bribes. 

 

"Henry was cool as a cucumber," Hailman said Friday. "I thought it would scare him. He was the one who brought it up; he said 'Do you want me to wear a wire?'" 

 

FBI agents arrested Balducci, who in turn secretly recorded a conversation with Scruggs about paying Lackey another $10,000. The judicial bribery investigation widened to convict former state auditor Steve Patterson, Scruggs' son Zach, Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter and two other lawyers. 

 

"I feel so unworthy," Lackey said at an award ceremony honoring him in 2008. "I am ambivalent about my involvement in the investigation. Of course, I'm saddened about the impact on the careers of some bright young lawyers." 

 

Hailman praised Lackey for his honesty and modesty, but said his "country boy" demeanor camouflaged a "very sophisticated operator." 

 

"He never wanted to be on the Supreme Court," Hailman said. "He didn't want to be rich. He just loved the life he had." 

 

That life revolved around Lackey's hometown of Calhoun City, where his father ran a dime store. He graduated from Mississippi College, served in the U.S. Army and earned a law degree from the University of Mississippi. Soon after, he won election for a term as Calhoun County prosecuting attorney. Lackey then accepted an appointment as Mississippi's first public defender, overseeing three Ole Miss law students in a pilot program in the seven-county judicial district where he would later preside as judge. 

 

Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed Lackey to the bench in 1993 and he was elected circuit judge four times without opposition, serving 17 years before retiring in 2010. He served for seven more years as a senior judge, stepping in when the Supreme Court appointed him to hear cases around the state. 

 

Lackey is survived by wife Helen Rose James Lackey and son Kevin Lackey, who directs the state Administrative Office of Courts. His funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church in Calhoun City, with visitation set for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the church.

 

 

 

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