Scruggs' co-conspirators will soon learn fate

By John O'Brien | Jan 27, 2009


OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Two of the co-conspirators of disgraced former plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs will be sentenced for their admitted roles in a judicial bribery scheme on Feb. 13.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers submitted a sentencing order Thursday in the cases of Timothy Balducci and former Mississippi Auditor Steve Patterson. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery of an elected official and face a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Scruggs, against whom Balducci gathered evidence, received the maximum five-year sentence last year and is incarcerated in Kentucky.

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 state Scruggs represented, Mississippi, is not part of the MSA but has its own separate agreement.

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. Partner John Griffin Jones filed suit against Scruggs, claiming his firm was shortchanged when the money was divided.

Scruggs eventually admitted that he gave the go-ahead for 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 Nov. 2007 to the scheme, and his business partner Patterson soon followed.

Lackey had contacted the FBI soon after Balducci's first mention of a bribe in early 2007, and Balducci began cooperating with the feds, leading to the Nov. 2007 indictment of Scruggs, his law partner and son Zach and Scruggs Law Firm attorney Sidney Backstrom.

Backstrom received a 28-month sentence, and Zach Scruggs a 14-month sentence for having knowledge of but failing to report the scheme.

If Balducci and Patterson provided a substantial amount of help to the federal prosecutors, a motion for downward departure of their sentences will be filed.

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

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