Former AG Moore takes on junior Scruggs' case

John O'Brien Mar. 17, 2008, 2:13pm

OXFORD, Miss. - The man who gave now-troubled trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs state power to fight tobacco companies will help represent Scruggs' son Zach in his battle against judicial bribery charges.

Former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore asked permission to be entered as counsel for Zach on Monday, the deadline for the younger Scruggs to agree to any plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Dickie, who used the power given to him by Moore to craft a settlement worth $246 billion to the 52 participating states and territories, pleaded guilty to the alleged scheme Friday.

Lee Martin, of Moore's law firm in Flowood, is also attempting to enter the case.

The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson had reported on Friday that Zach Scruggs would avoid jailtime as a result of his father's plea, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, but that does not appear to be the case. His trial is scheduled for March 31.

Moore served as AG from 1988-2004 and like Dickie Scruggs, was born in Pascagoula. The two were classmates at the University of Mississippi's law school.

Moore plays himself in the 1999 film "The Insider," about the states' case against the tobacco industry. Recently, he dropped out of the high-profile McIntosh v. State Farm after the company asked the court to remove several attorneys who worked with Scruggs.

Scruggs first made a name for himself in asbestos cases, representing shipyard workers. After that, his work led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, in which attorneys earned $1.4 billion as a result of the settlement.

After 2005's Hurricane Katrina, he grouped together a handful of law firms to create the Scruggs Katrina Group. The group represented insurance policyholders who believed their insurance companies were misrepresenting the amount of damage done to their properties by wind (covered by the policy) and water (covered by a federal program).

More than 600 cases were settled early in 2007, earning the SKG $26.5 million in attorneys fees. John Griffin Jones filed suit against Scruggs, claiming his firm was shortchanged when the money was divided.

Scruggs admitted that he gave the go-ahead for attorney Timothy Balducci to offer $50,000 to Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey for a ruling that would have sent the dispute to an arbitration panel. Attorney Timothy Balducci pleaded guilty in November to the scheme, and his business partner, former state Auditor Steven Patterson, soon followed.

Lackey contacted the FBI soon after Balducci's first mention of a bribe. Scruggs' associate Sidney Backstrom also pleaded guilty Friday.

Zach Scruggs had a little bit of trouble attempting to swap attorneys in January. His previous counsel, Tony Farese, wanted off the case because he was representing Joey Langston, who pleaded guilty to another judicial bribery scheme involving a Dickie Scruggs fees dispute.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers would not allow Farese to do so until Zach Scruggs could find another lawyer. He chose Todd Graves, a former U.S. Attorney in Missouri.

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Mississippi Attorney General
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