Scruggs pleads guilty to second judicial bribery scheme

Legal News Line Feb. 10, 2009, 3:00pm


ABERDEEN, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Famed plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs will have an extra 2 1/2 years tacked onto his current five-year prison sentence after his decision to plead guilty to a judicial bribery scheme Tuesday.

The 62-year-old Scruggs, known for his work in asbestos and tobacco litigation, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with the attempted corruption of Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who was presiding over a dispute between Scruggs and a former business partner.

Scruggs joins his lawyer in the case, Joey Langston, in pleading guilty to dangling a recommendation for a federal judgeship in front of DeLaughter. Langston received a three-year sentence.

Federal prosecutors recommended a seven-year sentence that would run concurrently with Scruggs' five-year sentence. He's already spent six months in federal prison in Kentucky and received no credit for those months.

U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson agreed with the prosecutors and quoted an old adage when talking to Scruggs, a man who was worth more than $200 million according to an audit performed in 2003.

"Money is like seawater," he said. "The more you drink, the thirstier you become."

Davidson also sentenced Scruggs to three years supervised release and levied a $100,000 fine.

Prosecutors asked that only Scruggs be dismissed from the currently sealed indictment, indicating more individuals have been charged.

More than 20 years ago, William Roberts Wilson, Alwyn Luckey and Scruggs each had their own stake in a group Scruggs started to file asbestos cases. Wilson and Luckey eventually sold their interests in more than 2,300 asbestos cases in agreements that were interpreted differently by all parties, and the two filed suit against Scruggs. Wilson filed his in 1994, and it dragged on for 12 years.

Luckey was awarded $17.5 million in his dispute with Scruggs after a trial in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis, but Wilson received only a $1.5 million payment because DeLaughter's interpretation of the contract showed no remaining balance owed to Wilson, and that a trial would have been merely for bragging rights.

A special master, though, had recommended Wilson be awarded $15 million.

In a civil suit filed in January, Wilson alleged a conspiracy that involved Scruggs, his lawyers in the dispute, DeLaughter, former state Auditor Steven Patterson, former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters and an unnamed former U.S. Senator.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is Scruggs' brother-in-law. Langston said the scheme involved using Lott to help DeLaughter get appointed to a federal judgeship in Mississippi by President Bush.

After what has been described as a courtesy call, however, Lott gave his support to another candidate.

Scruggs is currently incarcerated for attempting to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over Hurricane Katrina attorneys fees. His co-conspirators, former Langston law partner Timothy Balducci and Patterson, will be sentenced for their roles Feb. 13.

Scruggs' son Zach and law partner Sidney Backstrom are also currently incarcerated for their roles.

Days before the indictment was filed, Lott resigned his post in the Senate and began work as a lobbyist.

Davidson said he would recommend Scruggs be transferred to Forest City, Ark., where his son is incarcerated.

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