Judge puts end to attorneys' game of musical chairs

John O'Brien Jan. 10, 2008, 1:57pm




OXFORD, Miss. - After a day of heavy attorney movement in the saga of indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, federal judge Neal Biggers put everybody back where they were.

Late Wednesday, Biggers rejected motions entered by Scruggs and his son, co-defendants facing bribery charges, requesting approval of new attorneys.

Scruggs, known nationally for his role in litigation against tobacco companies, was attempting to add Oxford attorney Kenneth Coghlan, while his son Zach wanted to drop Tony Farese of Ashland's Farese, Farese & Farese in order to hire someone else.

Sidney Backstrom and former state Auditor Steven Patterson remain co-defendants with the Scruggses. They are alleged to have offered Lafayette Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey $40,000 for a favorable ruling in a $26.5 million attorneys fees dispute. The fees were earned when 640 Hurricane Katrina cases against State Farm Insurance Cos. were settled.

Biggers worried that Zach Scruggs was attempting to push the Feb. 25 trial date back.

"Because David Zachary Scruggs would be left with no attorney of record if the court were to grant the motion at this time and because the court will not sanction any action that would be grounds by the defendants for a future motion for a trial continuance," the order says, "the court finds that Mr. Farese's motion to withdraw should be denied until such time as a new attorney makes an entry of appearance on behalf of David Zachary Scruggs and the court is assured that this motion is not made for delay."

Farese could not be reached for comment.

Earlier in the day, Coghlan, of the Rayburn Coghlan Law Firm, was entered as counsel for Dickie Scruggs. He had served as counsel for Patterson 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.

Biggers worried that if Patterson or Scruggs were to testify against the other, it would put Coghlan in either the position of cross-examining his former client or using information against Patterson that he learned while Patterson's counsel.

"Before Mr. Coghlan will be approved as attorney of record for Richard F. Scruggs, the court must receive an explanation as to why such action would not be prejudicial to Patterson..." the order says.

One federal prosecutor was tight-lipped regarding Langston's situation. Langston formerly employed Timothy Balducci, the fifth indicted in the alleged bribery scheme who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman said he could not comment when asked if Langston had been indicted Wednesday. Staff at the federal courthouse in Oxford said they have no record of any indictment against Langston.

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