Scruggs hearing next week

John O'Brien Feb. 13, 2008, 5:26pm



OXFORD, Miss. - The defense team of indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs will get a chance to argue its case Wednesday before a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers has scheduled the hearing to discuss the numerous motions filed by the lawyers in Scruggs' judicial bribery case.

Monday, San Francisco attorney John Keker filed five motions on behalf of Scruggs, including requests to suppress evidence and dismiss the case. He said federal prosecutors manufactured the crime Scruggs is accused of.

Fellow defendants Zach Scruggs (his son and law partner) and Sidney Backstrom (an attorney at the Scruggs Law Firm) filed motions to sever their trials.

"The defendants herein filed seven motions on Feb. 11, 2008," Biggers wrote. "The Government is ordered to respond to the motions forthwith or no later than Feb. 19, 2008."

A March 31 trial date looms for Scruggs, 61, accused of bribing a state judge in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned in Hurricane Katrina settlements. He faces a maximum 75-year prison sentence and $1.5 million in fines.

Attorney Timothy Balducci and business partner Steven Patterson, a former state Auditor, pleaded guilty to the alleged scheme and are cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Among Keker's arguments made Monday were:

-FBI Agent William Delaney misled the Court in his affidavits and applications in support of extensions on wiretaps of Balducci's and Patterson's phones;

-The Government ignored evidence obtained in recorded phone conversations that exonerated Scruggs;

-A change of venue is necessary because the publicity given to the case has influenced the jury pool; and

-Evidence obtained through the guilty plea of Booneville attorney Joey Langston should not be introduced.

Langston and Balducci represented Scruggs in another attorneys fees dispute in Hinds County, and Langston admitted to attempting to bribe Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter with consideration for a federal judgeship.

The government had moved to introduce evidence from that case into Scruggs' case. Keker decided that he wanted to exclude "evidence concerning an alleged attempt to corruptly influence a different judge of a different court in a different case by different attorneys in a different year."

Scruggs also faces criminal contempt charges in Alabama.

Scruggs made his fortune in litigation against asbestos companies and by representing several states in their case against tobacco companies. His work helped lead to 1998's Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion to the 52 participating states and territories.

On Feb. 26, another Scruggs-related hearing will take place in Oxford. This one will determine if the Lafayette County Circuit Court has the authority to sanction Scruggs in the Katrina fees dispute.

Grady Tollison, attorney for John Jones, wants Scruggs' motion to compel arbitration struck from the case.

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