Scruggs private jet motion grounded

John O'Brien Dec. 11, 2007, 3:19pm


OXFORD, Miss. - Allan Alexander sounded more like an airline industry spokesperson than a federal magistrate judge in one of her recent orders.

Alexander told prominent indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs on Monday that Scruggs's defense team will not be able to use a private jet in order to prepare his defense in two criminal cases. Scruggs is charged with conspiring to bribe an elected state official in Alexander's courthouse, and contempt in Alabama.

"Commercial air travel to and from Mississippi, California and Alabama is readily available," Alexander wrote. "For example, Northwest Airlines has over 20 flights from San Francisco to Memphis. Most of these flights average less than $300 round-trip.

"From Memphis to Birmingham, an equal number of Northwest Airlines flights (most, if not all, direct) abound, averaging $184 round-trip. Travel to Oxford, Miss., and Birmingham is reasonably accessible by commercial air travel, and the defendant has not presented sufficient cause for amendment of the court's previous order."

After Scruggs paid his $100,000 bond late last month, Alexander told him he could only use his personal jet for emergency and charitable medical flights. A Jan. 22 trial date has been set.

Scruggs famously offered his jet to fly former University of Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt to Oxford, where he accepted a deal to become the new coach at the University of Mississippi, Scruggs' alma mater.

Scruggs hired the Langston Law Firm to represent him, though Joey Langston's office was searched by the FBI Monday. He also hired highly regarded defense attorney John Keker of San Francisco, prompting what he saw as a need for the use of a private jet.

Scruggs' remaining three co-defendants, son Zach and Sidney Backstrom of the Scruggs Law Firm and former State Auditor Steven Patterson, did not file similar motions. The fifth co-defendant, Timothy Balducci, pleaded guilty to a count of bribery and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

The five were indicted last month by a federal grand jury on charges that they conspired to bribe a state judge in a dispute over $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned in Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's settlement with State Farm Insurance Cos.

Scruggs faces up to 75 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

In the Alabama case, Judge William Acker claims Scruggs did not comply with an injunction last December when he refused to hand documents from E.A. Renfroe, a claims-handling company working with State Farm, back to the company's attorneys.

Instead, Scruggs gave them to Hood. Acker recommended to U.S. Attorney Alice Martin that she pursue criminal contempt charges, but she declined. Hood had written her, asking her not to because he considered Scruggs a confidential informant for his office. That's when Acker enlisted the help of special prosecutors who would file charges.

Scruggs has long had ties to the Attorney General's Office in Mississippi. His firm earned $1.4 billion when it was hired by former Attorney General Mike Moore to negotiate the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in the late 1990s.

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Mississippi Attorney General
550 High St Suite 1200
Jackson, MS 39201

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