Scruggses want testimony sealed

Chris Rizo Jul. 29, 2008, 12:46pm

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline)-Disgraced plaintiffs' attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs and his son want a federal judge to prevent their sworn testimony in a Hurricane Katrina lawsuit from being released.

The two men, who have been sentenced to federal prison for their part in a judicial bribery scheme, argue if their testimony is released their "presumption of innocence" could be compromised were they face criminal charges in the future.

Specifically, they say because of an ongoing federal investigation they want their testimony sealed.

The sworn videotaped testimony was taken last week in a civil case regarding a lawsuit brought by Scruggs on behalf of Thomas and Pamela McIntosh, whose Biloxi home was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In a motion filed Friday, attorneys for State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. and Alabama-based insurance damage assessor E.A. Renfroe & Co. allege both of the Scruggses were involved in criminal activity, a motion filed by an attorney representing Richard and Zach Scruggs says.

Richard and Zach Scruggs invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer the questions, court papers show.

"The dissemination of the Scruggses' deposition testimony may seriously prejudice their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in any future criminal proceedings by unfairly portraying them as asserting a constitutional privilege to conceal misconduct and by undermining the presumption of innocence," the motion said.

Dickie Scruggs, 62, was convicted of conspiring to offer $50,000 to Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey in exchange for a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from a settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.

He was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty to knowing about the conspiracy and not reporting it to authorities. He was sentenced to 14 months behind bars.

The Mississippi Supreme Court will consider disbarment petitions against Dickie and Zach Scruggs in their July-August term.

Dickie Scruggs became a titan among trial lawyers by litigating asbestos cases, where he represented shipyard workers.

He was hired by then-Attorney General Moore to pursue a case against tobacco companies on behalf of the state, and his work led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

After 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 Scruggs Katrina Group $26.5 million in attorneys' fees.

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