Balducci a liar, junior Scruggs says

John O'Brien Mar. 4, 2008, 1:47pm



OXFORD, Miss. - Zach Scruggs says he had no knowledge of any plan involving his dad, high-profile trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, and the attempted bribery of a state judge.

In Monday's motion to dismiss charges against him that he did, Zach called former attorney and government witness Timothy Balducci a liar.

"It has been clear since the filing of this indictment that the government has no credible evidence that Defendant (Zach) Scruggs knowingly participated in any scheme to bribe a judge," says the motion, filed by Todd Graves.

Graves is the founder of Graves, Bartle and Marcus in Kansas City, Mo., and a former U.S. Attorney.

The two Scruggses and Sidney Backstrom, also of the Scruggs Law Firm, have maintained their innocence against allegations that they conspired with two others to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey with $40,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees.

Their two original co-defendants, Balducci and business partner Steven Patterson, a former state Auditor, have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with federal prosecutors.

"Following the hearings conducted by this Court last week, the government provided the defendants with the grand jury testimonies of Timothy Balducci and FBI Special Agent William Delaney," Graves wrote.

"The grand jury testimonies are patently false and misleading in material respects and undoubtedly led to the erroneous indictment of Defendant Zach Scruggs."

For Zach Scruggs, his level of involvement, if any, is judged through three events from last year -- a March meeting, an October preparation of an order for Lackey to sign and a November meeting during which Balducci, having been arrested, was wearing a wire.

The Nov. 1 meeting is the most important to Graves' motion, he says. It is during that meeting, Balducci claims, that Balducci asked Zach Scruggs and Backstrom for an additional $10,000 because Lackey claimed new filings in the case made him nervous about the alleged scheme. Lackey had contacted the U.S. Attorney's office in March, after Balducci apparently approached him with an offer.

Graves cited the transcript of the meeting, claiming Zach Scruggs had left the room by the time that business was discussed by Backstrom and Balducci because of a phone call.

"After some comments by Zach Scruggs and Mr. Balducci about Zach's reluctance to take the call, there is a pause, after which Mr. Balducci appears no longer to be speaking to Zach Scruggs," the motion says. "Balducci's language changes from the plural 'y'all' to the singular 'you.' And Zach Scruggs's voice is never heard on the tape again. What is heard is the sound of a door closing."

Graves argues that Balducci contradicted himself during his grand jury testimony because he said he told Zach Scruggs about the extra $10,000, an allegation repeated by Delaney during his testimony.

"The transcript of the Nov. 1 recording does not refer to any dollar figure at all, except in the course of Mr. Balducci's separate conversation with Richard Scruggs (not involving Zach Scruggs or Sid Backstrom)" Graves wrote.

A March 31 trial date is set for all three defendants. Zach Scruggs and Backstrom attempted to sever their trials, but U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers did not grant their requests.

Each faces a maximum prison sentence of 75 years and maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Dickie Scruggs gained much of his fortune in asbestos and tobacco litigation. His work led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating territories and states. Attorneys earned $1.4 billion in the settlement.

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