Scruggs says he needs his plane to prepare defense

By John O'Brien | Dec 7, 2007


OXFORD, Miss. - Because his defense team is so spread out and he's facing criminal charges in more than one court, indicted Mississippi trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs says he needs to be allowed back on board his private jet.

Scruggs filed a motion to amend the conditions of his release Friday, asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Allan Alexander to permit him to fly to California and Alabama. He's facing criminal contempt charges in Birmingham, Ala., and has hired a San Francisco firm to help with his defense.

The prosecutors, Scruggs says, have no objection to it.

"Scruggs respectfully submits that the conditions of his release should be amended to permit Scruggs's counsel in this and the Alabama federal court actions to use Scruggs's airplane (tail number N892S) to travel to and from California, Mississippi and Alabama for purposes of preparing Scruggs's defense," the motion says.

"Counsel for the United States and Scruggs have discussed this matter, and the United States has agreed to forgo contest on this motion."

After Scruggs paid his $100,000 bond, Alexander told him he could only use it for emergency and charitable medical flights. A Jan. 22 trial date has been set.

Scruggs famously offered his jet to fly former University of Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt to Oxford, where he accepted a deal to become the new coach at the University of Mississippi, Scruggs' alma mater.

Scruggs' remaining three co-defendants, son Zach and Sidney Backstrom of the Scruggs Law Firm and former State Auditor Steven Patterson, have not filed motions to use Scruggs' jet. The fifth co-defendant, Timothy Balducci, pleaded guilty to a count of bribery and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

The five were indicted last month by a federal grand jury on charges that they conspired to bribe a state judge in a dispute over $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned in Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's settlement with State Farm Insurance Cos.

In the Alabama case, Judge William Acker claims Scruggs did not comply with an injunction last December when he refused to hand over documents from E.A. Renfroe, a claims-handling company working with State Farm, back to the company's attorneys.

Instead, Scruggs gave them to Hood. Acker recommended to U.S. Attorney Alice Martin that she pursue criminal contempt charges, but she declined. Hood had written her, asking her not to because he considered Scruggs a confidential informant for his office. That's when Acker enlisted the help of special prosecutors who would file charges.

Scruggs has long had ties to the Attorney General's Office in Mississippi. His firm earned $1.4 billion when it was hired by former Attorney General Mike Moore to negotiate the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in the late 1990s.

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