Scruggs' former lawyer, co-defendant plead guilty to bribery scheme

John O'Brien Jan. 14, 2008, 2:22pm



OXFORD, Miss. - Two more have pleaded guilty to bribery charges in the ongoing saga of indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, according to recently unsealed documents.

Trial lawyer Joey Langston, who has defended Scruggs in court in the past, and former state Auditor Steven Patterson, one of Scruggs' original four co-defendants, both entered guilty pleas last week and are cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Scruggs and two others from his firm, son Zach and attorney Sidney Backstrom, are the remaining defendants facing charges that they 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

Patterson was business partners with attorney Timothy Balducci, who pleaded guilty soon after the Nov. 28 indictment and apparently led the feds to Langston, with whom he previously worked at The Langston Law Firm.

Federal prosecutors allege that Langston helped Dickie Scruggs attempt to bribe Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in another of Scruggs' attorneys fees dispute, this one over attorneys fees from asbestos suits.

"It was... part of the conspiracy that Richard "Dickie" Scruggs told Joseph C. Langston that he could arrange for... DeLaughter to be considered for a U.S. District Judge appointment and that Langston should convey that information through his co-conspirators," the indictment says.

Those acts are alleged to have occurred in February and March of 2006.

In 2005, a federal judge ordered Scruggs to pay attorney Alwyn Luckey more than $17 million in the dispute over asbestos fees, filed in 1994. A special master recommended that Luckey's former partner, William Wilson, 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.

"On our about Feb. 2006, Richard "Dickie" Scruggs agreed with... Langston and other co-conspirators that if the Wilson v. Scruggs case was resolved in his favor that Langston, Patterson and a close personal friend of Judge DeLaughter would split the savings to Scruggs as a result of a resolution of the case in favor of Scruggs," the indictment says.

"Between, on or about July 2006 and July 2007... Langston...Patterson and the close personal friend of Robert "Bobby DeLaughter split $3 million, representing the savings to Scruggs as a result of rulings in favor of Scruggs by Judge DeLaughter, resulting in a settlement of the case."

Langston's plea carries a maximum of three years in prison. If his sentencing judge goes over that cap, Langston asks that his plea be withdrawn.

Patterson's plea, meanwhile, carries no sentencing requirements.

"There is no agreement as to the sentence to be imposed, which will be in the sole discretion of the Court subject to Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which has been explained to the defendant by his attorney," the plea says. "Both parties reserve their right to speak at sentencing."

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

The pleas of Langston and Patterson seemed to be in the works last week, even though all documents were sealed and those involved had no comment to the press.

A federal grand jury met Tuesday to hear testimony from DeLaughter, and Langston, whose offices were searched by federal investigators in December, withdrew as Scruggs' counsel.

Zach Scruggs then dropped Tony Farese as his lawyer, and Farese began representing Langston. However, a federal judge required Farese stay with Scruggs, who did not provide a substitute.

Dickie Scruggs tried to add Kenneth Coghlan as his attorney, but the same judge rejected it because Coghlan initially represented Patterson after the indictment. Patterson's name was then missing from a motion filed Friday by the two Scruggses and Backstrom.

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