Scruggs apparently pleading guilty to second judicial bribery scheme

By John O'Brien | Feb 6, 2009


ABERDEEN, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Once-famed plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs is scheduled to appear in federal court on Tuesday, presumably to plead guilty to another judicial bribery scheme.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Friday Scruggs has been moved from federal prison in Kentucky, where he is serving a five-year sentence as punishment for attempting to bribe a state judge in a dispute over attorneys fees.

Court documents show he will appear before U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson to plead guilty to a judicial bribery scheme involving a dispute over asbestos fees, the report says.

That scheme is the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by Scruggs' former business partner, William Roberts Wilson.

The suit, filed in January, alleges a conspiracy that involves Scruggs, his lawyers in a dispute with Wilson over attorneys fees, Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, former state Auditor Steven Patterson, former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters and an unnamed former U.S. Senator.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is Scruggs' brother-in-law. Joey Langston, one of Scruggs' attorneys, has already pleaded guilty to the scheme, which he said involved using Lott to help DeLaughter get appointed to a federal judgeship in Mississippi by President Bush.

After what has been described as a courtesy call, however, Lott gave his support to another candidate.

Wilson, Alwyn Luckey and Scruggs each had their own stake in a group Scruggs started to file asbestos cases. Wilson had sold his interest in more than 2,300 asbestos cases in an agreement that was interpreted differently by the two sides, and he filed suit against Scruggs in 1994.

Luckey was awarded $17.5 million in his dispute with Scruggs after a trial in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis, but Wilson received only a $1.5 million payment because Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter's interpretation of the contract showed no remaining balance owed to Wilson, and that a trial would have been merely for bragging rights.

He determined this despite a recommendation by a special master that Wilson was owed $15 million. The alleged bribery is said to have taken place in Feb.-March 2006.

Wilson claims Scruggs used those ill-gotten funds from the asbestos settlement to fund the landmark tobacco litigation that resulted in billions of dollars for plaintiffs attorneys hired to represent their respective states.

Scruggs represented Mississippi, hired by then-Attorney General Mike Moore. 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."

Wilson had filed suit in federal court, asking for a share of the tobacco fees because it was his money Scruggs was using to fund the litigation. When DeLaughter ruled that Wilson was not owed anything, that argument died.

Scruggs is currently incarcerated for attempting to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over Hurricane Katrina attorneys fees. His co-conspirators, former Langston law partner Timothy Balducci and Patterson, will be sentenced for their roles Feb. 13.

Scruggs' son Zach and law partner Sidney Backstrom are also currently incarcerated for their roles.

Days before the indictment was filed, Lott resigned his post in the Senate and began work as a lobbyist.

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

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