Barrett Law attorney switches jobs, drops Katrina suits

John O'Brien Jan. 7, 2008, 2:52pm


GULFPORT, Miss. - One of the remaining members of the former Scruggs Katrina Group has dropped his Katrina cases, but it has nothing to do with recent requests made by State Farm Insurance Cos. to do so.

Marshall Smith Jr. filed motions Monday asking to withdraw as counsel in the high-profile McIntosh v. State Farm, as well as Shows v. State Farm. The insurance company has asked the federal judges in those cases to disqualify anyone who worked in the SKG while indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs was heading it.

Smith, though, has simply left his job at the Barrett Law Office to work with his father at Holmes County Bank and Trust Co., a short walk down Court Sq. in Lexington from his former office.

"My resignation has been planned since mid-September, 2007, well before State Farm's motions to disqualify were filed," Smith said.

Smith cited health reasons as motivation for leaving. His resignation was effective Dec. 31.

"Plaintiffs will be adequately represented by the remaining attorneys of record in this case," his motions say. "Plaintiffs will suffer no prejudice as a result of the withdrawal of undersigned counsel as an attorney of record in this case."

Three firms (The Lovelace Law Firm, Barrett Law Office and Nutt & McAlister) took over all the Scruggs cases and renamed themselves the Katrina Litigation Group after the indictment of Scruggs.

The McIntosh motion also seeks the disqualification of former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who is also representing the McIntoshes and hired Scruggs in the 1990s to represent the State in litigation against tobacco companies, resulting in nearly $1 billion in attorneys fees for Scruggs' firm.

Scruggs and two other members of the Scruggs Law Firm (son Zach and Sidney Backstrom) were indicted by a federal grand jury in November on charges that they conspired with attorney Timothy Balducci and former state Auditor Steven Patterson to bribe a state judge.

The indictment claims they offered $40,000 to Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey for a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned when State Farm settled 640 cases last year.

Shortly after the indictment, Scruggs' firm left the SKG. He faces up to 75 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. Balducci has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Central in State Farm's argument for disqualification is the SKG's relationship with sisters Kerri Rigsby and Cori Rigsby Moran.

State Farm reasoned that the SKG's decision to pay the Rigsbys $150,000 salaries as litigation consultants constitutes bribery. The Rigsby sisters copied 15,000 pages of State Farm confidential documents while working at E.A. Renfroe and Co. and turned them over to Scruggs, who then gave them the jobs. Kerri Rigsby testified that she only worked about five hours in a 20-day period in Nov. 2006.

Though the Rigsbys primarily dealt with Scruggs, State Farm said the group's other attorneys are liable as accessories.

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