As we approach the June 27 sentencing date for Dickie Scruggs, leave it to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to remind us of his connections to Ronnie Musgrove. Their web page (www.musgrovefacts.com) hosts a litany of articles and attacks against the former governor. Yes, it is politics as usual; but, they provide us context in the campaign between Musgrove and Senator Roger Wicker.

Scruggs pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a Lafayette County circuit judge regarding $20 million in attorney fees. The federal prosecution also took down Scruggs' son and law partner Zach Scruggs, attorneys Sidney Backstrom and Timothy Balducci, and former Mississippi State Auditor Steve Patterson.

This is Mississippi's second recent federal prosecution of a prominent trial lawyer misbehaving with a judge. Last year, a Mississippi jury found Paul Minor guilty of racketeering, mail and wire fraud, and bribery in a case that also sent chancery judge Wes Teel and circuit judge John Whitfield to prison.

Over the years, Musgrove received more than $150,000 in campaign contributions from Minor and $92,000 in contributions from Scruggs, who also secured Musgrove a $75,000 loan during his run for lieutenant governor. The NRSC dubs Scruggs and Minor: Musgrove's "dependable duo."

The NRSC notes Musgrove's official 2000 Inaugural program recognizes both Minor and Scruggs, and both attended a birthday party Musgrove hosted for himself at the Mississippi Governor's Mansion. (Joey Langston, Scrugg's attorney until Langston himself pleaded guilty to conspiracy to corruptly influence another judge, was also on the guest list.)

Musgrove is not the first politician to take money from shady characters, but in addition to Scruggs and Minor, Musgrove reported $60,000 in campaign contributions relating to Mississippi's failed $55 million beef plant.

During Musgrove's administration, Mississippi hired the Facility Management Group as project manager for the beef plant. Afterward, the Facility Group, its political action committee, and a dozen senior executives all contributed to Musgrove's campaign. Now the chief executive officer, the chief operating officer, and the executive vice-president are under federal indictment for corruptly violating Mississippi campaign finance laws; all have denied wrongdoing.

Musgrove appeared before a federal grand jury on the matter and in March, the Associated Press reported Musgrove's campaign manager to say, "Ronnie Musgrove had nothing to do with the awarding of any of the contracts related to the beef processing plant and at no time did anyone try to influence him regarding the awarding of such contracts." Also contributing to Musgrove was construction company president Sean Carothers who pleaded guilty to giving kickbacks to the failed beef plant president.

Mississippi's Constitution gives few powers to the governor as important as the power of appointment - whether to the U.S. Senate as Gov. Haley Barbour did with Wicker - or be it to the state judiciary.

A recent editorial by the Greenwood Commonwealth praised Barbour for reinstating a nonpolitical vetting process for judicial vacancy appointments. The Commonwealth writes, "Ironically, it was the abandonment of using a screening committee by Barbour's predecessor, Ronnie Musgrove, that landed [Leflore County Judge Solomon] Osborne on the bench in the first place. It is highly doubtful that Osborne would have passed muster had he been vetted, given the host of problems that dogged him - from federal tax liens to a Mississippi Supreme Court sanction. Musgrove, to his discredit, used political considerations rather than judicial qualifications to make the 2001 appointment, and it proved to be a disaster."

The NRSC quotes from a Sun Herald article saying, "Minor's influence on Musgrove's judicial appointments is so powerful that courthouse insiders have nicknamed him 'the judgemaker.'"

Remember that party at the Governor's Mansion? Another birthday guest was former Democratic Party Chairman Danny Cupit. In a transcript from Minor's trial, Cupit describes Musgrove's version of judicial selection committee. Cupit says Musgrove "asked several people to make recommendations to him of people who we thought would be good for [the Supreme Court]." When asked if he had a personal meeting with Musgrove on the matter he said, "Yes, Ma'am. We had - There was a meeting attended by Paul Minor and Dick Scruggs and me and the governor."

To his credit, while surrounding himself with felons, Musgrove has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Still, the crimes these Musgrove cohorts have been charged or convicted of do more damage than swindling another attorney out of $20 million in fees.

Musgrove's political career is littered with poor decisions that leave his judgment in question.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms