Scruggs gets extra month before trial

John O'Brien Dec. 26, 2007, 1:51pm


OXFORD, Miss. - Though the deadline for discovery will stay the same, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers has pushed the bribery trial of prominent trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, back more than a month.

On Friday, Biggers claimed that Scruggs' defense team did not make a convincing argument to stay proceedings based on discovery issues, though he agreed that it should be allowed to employ experts to look over the evidence against Scruggs.

"(T)he defendants advise the court that they may employ experts to examine the electronic surveillance evidence and the photographic evidence, and also state that they may file extensive motions asking for suppression of the searches and the Title III wire taps, motions to dismiss the indictment, and other discovery motions," the order says.

The trial of Scruggs and his three co-defendants (son Zach and attorney Sidney Backstrom of the Scruggs Law Firm and former state Auditor Steven Patterson of Balducci and Patterson) will be moved from Jan. 22, 2008, to Feb. 25.

Timothy Balducci, the fifth charged in last month's indictment, pleaded guilty to a count of bribery and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

The indictment said the five conspired to bribe Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $40,000 to compel arbitration in a $26.5 million attorneys fees suit.

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.

He has been a campaign contributor to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, as has Balducci and Backstrom.

Defense attorney John Keker of San Fracisco's Keker and Van Nest asked for a continuance of 90-120 days. He wrote he needs more time to become familiar with any evidence against Scruggs, such as 124 phone calls recorded on CDs and a 90-minute recording that contains statements by four of the defendants.

Also, Keker says the government has not provided to the defense any audio or video recordings made in Lackey's chambers or any material seized in the Nov. 27 raid on Scruggs' office and the Dec. 10 raid on the Langston Law Firm, which is helping to represent Scruggs.

"The government states in its response that this case is not a complicated one and is rather straightforward, and with the cadre of attorneys who have now made appearances in this case (11 for the defense, three for the government) and are available to work on the case, the motion practice should move smoothly and without delay," Biggers wrote.

"The defendants, however, certainly have the right to file all pretrial motions they deem appropriate, and in view of their statement to the court about the extensive motion practice they are considering, the court is of the opinion that more time can reasonably be granted between the deadline for discovery completion, and the filing and disposing of all pretrial motions prior to the preparation for trial."

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