Scruggs hires new attorney for bribery case

John O'Brien Jan. 9, 2008, 1:37pm



OXFORD, Miss. - While the withdrawal of his last attorney continues to be unexplained, indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs on Wednesday presented a federal court with his newest counsel.

Oxford attorney Kenneth Coghlan of the Rayburn Coghlan Law Firm was entered as counsel in Scruggs' bribery case. Federal prosecutors allege Scruggs and four others conspired to bribe a state judge in an attorneys fees dispute.

Coghlan served as counsel for former state Auditor Steven Patterson, one of Scruggs' co-defendants, until withdrawing Dec. 17.

Coghlan had stepped aside because Greenwood attorney Hiram Eastland began representing Patterson on Dec. 10 -- the same day former Scruggs attorney Joey Langston had his offices searched by federal investigators.

Langston withdrew as Scruggs' counsel Tuesday -- the same day a federal grand jury heard testimony regarding another of Scruggs' attorneys fees disputes. Langston represented Scruggs in that case, too.

Internet message boards have speculated on Langston's motives for withdrawing, but no proof has been offered anywhere. Messages left with Langston Law Firm attorney William Quin II, who also withdrew, and assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman have not been answered.

Staff at the federal courthouse in Oxford said, "We have no record" of a Langston indictment.

Federal prosecutors say Scruggs and four others, including his son Zach, conspired to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $40,000 in a $26.5 million attorneys fees dispute. The fees were earned when 640 Hurricane Katrina cases against State Farm Insurance Cos. were settled.

One of the five defendants, Timothy Balducci, pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators. He is famously quoted in the indictment as having told Lackey that, "Over the last five or six years there ... are bodies buried that ... (Scruggs) and I know where ... (they) are."

The suit filed in 1994 involved attorneys fees paid by asbestos companies, according to a report in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

In 2005, a federal judge ordered Scruggs to pay attorney Alwyn Luckey more than $17 million. A special master recommended that Luckey's former partner ask for more than $15 million from Scruggs, who hired Langston as his lead counsel.

However, Hinds County Judge Bobby DeLaughter disagreed and ordered Scruggs pay only $1.5 million in late payments. The case was eventually settled when DeLaughter told the two sides that a trial would only settle bragging rights because all that was left was a "negative balance," the report says.

Scruggs and Langston both have ties to the Attorney General's office in Mississippi. Scruggs was hired by then-Attorney General Mike Moore in the 1990s to represent the State in its suit against tobacco companies, resulting in nearly $1 billion in attorneys fees for Scruggs' firm.

Langston is currently in a fight with outgoing state Auditor Phil Bryant, who soon will take office as Lieutenant Governor, over attorneys fees earned in the $100 million settlement with MCI in 2005. Langston, a campaign contributor to current Attorney General Jim Hood, was hired by Hood as a special assistant attorney general for the case.

Hood also hired Langston's firm for the State's case against prescription drug maker Eli Lilly. Scruggs is also a campaign contributor of Hood's.

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