Scruggs, other shady lawyers highlighted in film

John O'Brien Jul. 11, 2011, 12:28pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A documentary that debuts Monday night chronicles personal injury lawyers who abused America's civil justice system.

"InJustice," a one-hour film by Single Malt Media and producer Brian Kelly, airs at 10 p.m. on ReelzChannel and highlights scams perpetrated by attorneys in asbestos and Fen-Phen litigation, as well as the downfall of plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.

The film was backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Legal Newsline is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the Chamber.

"When you look at the civil justice system, you see the amount of fraud that's been perpetrated over the last 15 years, it makes you question the system," Kelly says in a video on the film's website.

"It makes you question 'Can anyone of us walk into a courtroom and get a fair trial?' Can you put together a company -- start your own small company and not be sued for something that is not necessarily your fault or something you can prevent?"

Scruggs was a well-known asbestos attorney when he helped engineer a massive settlement with tobacco companies in the late 1990s on behalf of the state of Mississippi. Forty-six states eventually signed the Master Settlement Agreement, worth $246 billion, and the three other states entered into their own agreements.

But in the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, Scruggs and several other lawyers formed the Scruggs Katrina Group for the purpose of amassing claims against home insurers. He found himself in a dispute over attorneys fees with one of those firms.

In 2007, he was charged by federal prosecutors with attempting to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 in exchange for an order that would have compelled arbitration in the case. Lackey reported the offer made to him to the FBI, and Scruggs and four others pleaded guilty.

Scruggs then pleaded guilty to a separate judicial bribery scheme involving another fees dispute. He was sentenced to a total of 7 ½ years in prison.

Kelly said his own laborious dealings with trial attorneys led to the idea for the movie. Other areas it will explore are: How the class action lawsuit was born from the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the tobacco settlement; silicosis litigation; and securities lawsuits.

The movie comes two weeks after the debut of "Hot Coffee," a documentary that aired on HBO and was critical of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's role in the tort reform movement.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

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