Scruggs' former partner wants to revive dispute

John O'Brien Feb. 5, 2008, 1:40pm


JACKSON, Miss. - For William Roberts Wilson, disagreeing with fellow trial attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs has caused a nuisance that has lasted 14 years -- and counting.

With the recent confession of one of Scruggs' attorneys that he attempted to bribe the judge presiding over Wilson's attorneys fees dispute with Scruggs, several issues have risen that will keep the arguments alive well past the 2007 settling of the case.

Wilson attorney Charles Merkel said a few options are being discussed for the suit, filed in 1994.

"There are new developments everyday," Merkel said. "We want to know all of the facts before we act precipitously with only half of the knowledge."

Wilson, Alwyn Luckey and Scruggs each had their own stake in a group Scruggs started to file asbestos cases. Wilson had sold his interest in more than 2,300 asbestos cases in an agreement that was interpreted differently by the two sides.

Luckey was awarded $17.5 million in his dispute with Scruggs after a trial in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis, but Wilson received only a $1.5 million payment because Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter's interpretation of the contract showed no remaining balance owed to Wilson, and that a trial would have been merely for bragging rights.

Last month, Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who represented Scruggs at the time the interpretation was adopted, pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe DeLaughter with consideration for a federal judgeship.

The case file -- all 10,000 pages of documents -- was hauled away by federal prosecutors. They plan to use evidence from that case in one of its others against Scruggs, known nationally for his role in 1998's Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement that has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating states and territories.

Scruggs is charged with attempting to bribe a Lafayette Circuit judge with $40,000 in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in Hurricane Katrina fees. Two of his original four co-defendants have pleaded guilty, including former Langston Law Firm attorney Timothy Balducci.

Balducci also worked for Scruggs on the Wilson case.

"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.

Some formulas used in Wilson's case to produce a balance showed that Wilson was owed as much as $24.9 million, and a special master suggested Wilson was owed $15 million.

The formula that was adopted by DeLaughter indicated that Wilson had already been paid more than he was owed.

"It's been terribly tough, and especially so for Mr. Wilson," Merkel said. "His funds were totally cut off from 1994 until 2006, and during all of this time there was no question he was owed money."

According to Merkel, "lots of things can happen" with the case.

The case could be reopened and the final order set aside, with sanctions being issued by the Court against any perpetrators. Oxford attorney Grady Tollison is currently preparing for a hearing that will determine if the Lafayette Circuit Court can hear an evidentiary ruling that he wants held to determine if Scruggs should be sanctioned in the Katrina fees case.

Also, Wilson's side could file separate causes of action against anyone who took part in the scheme, like Langston.

"I would say we are exploring the steps that can be taken and when," Merkel said. "There's been no decision reached (yet)."

Because he's representing a man who feels he has been owed money for 14 years, one can expect Merkel won't take too long to find a course of action -- well before the possibility of violating any statute of limitations occurs.

"I don't think it will take that long," Merkel said, laughing.

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