Hood: Federal justice effective against Scruggs

John O'Brien Mar. 14, 2008, 2:52pm




JACKSON, Miss. - In catching high-profile plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs in a judicial bribery scheme, the federal government's methods of investigation worked perfectly, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said Friday.

So well, in fact, that he wishes he could use the same, even though he has recently deferred prosecution of one federal judicial bribery case to the local district attorney and has shown no sign of filing charges against Scruggs.

"The federal government effectively used its wiretap authority to prosecute a rare judicial bribery case," Hood said. "It would be an effective deterrent in other white collar crime cases, if the Legislature would give wiretap authority to state prosecutors."

Hood has drawn criticism since the November indictment of Scruggs, a large campaign contributor whose relationship with Hood was described as "remarkably close" by federal prosecutors in Scruggs' recently dismissed contempt case.

Editorials called for Hood's resignation because the second-term Democrat would not file state charges against Scruggs, any of his co-conspirators or attorney Joey Langston. Langston pleaded guilty to a judicial bribery scheme involving Scruggs in Hinds County.

Both Scruggs and Langston have donated directly to Hood's campaigns and, combined, gave $440,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association. The DAGA gave the same amount to Hood.

Because Langston was awarded state contracts by Hood to sue prescription drug-maker Eli Lilly and MCI, Hood said he could not prosecute him.

"Due to Mr. Langston's past representation of this office, it could create an appearance of impropriety for our office to participate in a potential state prosecution of this case. It will be up to the appropriate District Attorney(s) to handle any potential state case(s). The resources of my office will be available to them."

Langston said he offered political sway that could lead to a federal judgeship for Hinds Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter when he represented Scruggs in a dispute over asbestos fees.

Scruggs and attorney Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that they conspired to bribe Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees from Hurricane Katrina settlements.

Attorney Timothy Balducci, formerly of Langston's firm, also pleaded guilty to the scheme and added that he and business partner Steven Patterson, a former state Auditor who pleaded guilty too, were offered $500,000 by Scruggs if they could convince Hood not to criminally indict State Farm Insurance Cos. over its handling of post-Katrina claims.

It was wiretaps of conversations initiated by Balducci that gave federal prosecutors some of their best evidence against Scruggs.

"The federal investigation in this case was thorough and complete," Hood said. "And while it's a sad day for the Mississippi Judicial System, in the end, the system worked."

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