Fellow defendant pleads guilty in Scruggs bribery case

John O'Brien Dec. 5, 2007, 2:15pm


OXFORD, Miss. - Attorney Timothy Balducci pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to charges that he conspired to attempt to bribe a state judge and is now helping federal prosecutors with their case against prominent trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.

Balducci's decision might be bad news for Scruggs. Balducci is quoted in the indictment as claiming he and Scruggs know where there "are bodies buried."

"The defendant agrees to cooperate with the United States Attorney (Jim Greenlee) by giving full and truthful statements to such agents as are assigned by the U.S. Attorney to interview defendant as to all knowledge defendant may have of other persons involved in any way in the offenses charged and all other criminal offenses in any way and to give full and truthful testimony about the same before any federal grand juries and trial juries before which defendant is subpoenaed," the plea says.

The agreement contains no specified sentence, only saying that it is up to the discretion of the Court. The charge to which he admitted carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and $250,000 in fines.

Balducci and Steven Patterson, of Balducci and Patterson, were indicted last week with Scruggs Law Firm members Scruggs, son Zach Scruggs and Sidney Backstrom. It was alleged that the five conspired to bribe Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $40,000 to compel arbitration in a dispute with another firm over $26.5 million in attorneys fees.

Given that direct quotes from conversations between Balducci and Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey were contained in the indictment, it was speculated that Balducci was cooperating with federal officials.

"(M)y relationship with Dick is such that he and I can talk very private about these kinds of matters and I have the fullest confidence that if the court, you know, is inclined to rule... in favor... everything will be good," Balducci told Lackey, according to the indictment.

"The only person in the world outside of me and you that has discussed this is me and Dick... We, uh, like I say, it ain't but three people in the world that know anything about this... and two of them are sitting here and the other one... the other one, uh, being Scruggs... he and I, um, how shall I say, for over the last five or six years there, there are bodies buried that, that you know, that he and I know where... where are, and, and, my, my trust in his, mine in him and his in mine, in me, I am sure are the same."

Scruggs' firm earned $1.4 billion when it was hired to represent the State of Mississippi in a lawsuit against tobacco companies that culminated in 1998's Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, worth $246 billion.

Since then, he has become central in litigation against insurance companies alleged to have shortchanged policyholders after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. The $26.5 million dispute over which Lackey previously presided arose from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's settlement with State Farm Insurance Cos.

For more Scruggs coverage, click here.

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State of Mississippi
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