The federal courthouse in Oxford
OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Told how repentant former Scruggs Law Firm attorney and admitted felon Sidney Backstrom is, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers couldn't help but make a simple observation.
"Well, I haven't heard any testimony," Biggers said Friday at Backstrom's sentencing hearing, which resulted in a 28-month term being tagged on the 39-year-old lawyer who was charged as a conspirator in a judicial bribery scheme involving famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.
Biggers could have sentenced Backstrom to three years in prison, but stopped eight months shy. He said he had seen real remorse from Backstrom but not full cooperation with federal prosecutors.
Like Scruggs, who was sentenced to five years in prison earlier Friday, Backstrom will be fined $250,000 and pay for the costs of his own incarceration that will begin Aug. 4.
Backstrom was seen as the more emotional between he and Scruggs on March 14, the day both pleaded guilty to the scheme.
Backstrom offered an apology that day, something Scruggs did not do.
"I would like to express my profound apologies for my involvement," Backstrom said Friday.
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, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating territories and states.
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 Lackey for a ruling that would have sent the dispute to an arbitration panel. Balducci pleaded guilty in November to the scheme, and his business partner Steven Patterson, a former state Auditor, soon followed.
Lackey contacted the FBI soon after Balducci's first mention of a bribe. Scruggs agreed to a maximum prison sentence of five years, pleading guilty to a conspiracy charge while the other five were dropped.
Son Zach pleaded guilty misprision of a felony, meaning he knew about the scheme but did nothing to prevent it. He will be sentenced next week.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman called Friday "a sad day for everyone -- a sad day for the state."
From Legal Newsline: John O'Brien contributed to this report. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.