Sentencing date set for Scruggs' former lawyer

By John O'Brien | Nov 18, 2008



OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - More than 11 months later to pleading guilty a judicial bribery scheme involving disgraced former plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, fellow attorney Joey Langston was given his sentencing date.

Langston, a high-profile plaintiffs lawyer in his own right, pleaded guilty in January to attempting to corruptly influence an elected state official. Langston faces a maximum five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

Michael Mills, the chief judge for the northern federal district of Mississippi, will sentence Langston at 10 a.m. on Dec. 16 in Oxford.

His colleague, Judge Neal Biggers, sentenced Scruggs in June to the maximum prison time and imposed the strictest fine after Scruggs pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Langston pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter with consideration for a federal judgeship while he was representing Scruggs in a dispute over attorneys fees with a former partner.

DeLaughter presided over the case between Scruggs and former partner William Roberts Wilson, Jr. The two teamed up on asbestos cases and disagreed over the amount of fees Wilson was owed after he sold his interest in the enterprise.

A special master recommended DeLaughter rule Wilson was owed $15 million, but DeLaughter instead decided in 2006 that Wilson was already paid in full when Scruggs gave him $1.5 million.

Scruggs' brother-in-law, then-Sen. Trent Lott, could make recommendations to President George Bush.

Ultimately, after what has been described as a "courtesy call," Lott gave his support to another candidate.

Wilson attorneys Vicki Slater and William Kirksey filed a complaint against DeLaughter. The Commission alleges that Langston, then-partner Timothy Balducci and former state Auditor Steven Patterson used former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters as an intermediary to communicate with DeLaughter.

The complaint says DeLaughter showed an opinion he planned to enter in the case to Peters, allowing Scruggs' legal team to review it.

Recently, an accidentally released document that was supposed to be kept under seal showed that Langston testified before a grand jury in Oxford on Oct. 23 for 90 minutes, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

The document also showed that Langston met at least 12 times with federal authorities, and his "testimony exceeded government expectations." Langston also had a heart attack in February, the report says.

Langston was a heavy contributor to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and was hired to represent the State in a pair of high-profile cases.

The first resulted in a $100 million settlement that provided Langston and other attorneys with $14 million in fees which are being disputed by state Auditor Stacey Pickering. The other, the State's case against pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., is ongoing. Langston was relieved of his duties by Hood after he pleaded guilty.

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. The case, and Scruggs' work, was depicted in the Al Pacino/Russell Crowe film "The Insider."

After that, he took on the insurance industry after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, forming the Scruggs Katrina Group.

More than 600 of SKG's cases were settled early in 2007, earning the SKG $26.5 million in attorneys fees. Former partner 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 Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry 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.

Son Zach received 14 months and Scruggs Law Firm attorney Sidney Backstrom received 28 months.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

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