Civil suit against Scruggs settled

By John O'Brien | Nov 17, 2009


OXFORD, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - One of the attorneys fees disputes that brought down famed plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs has been settled.

Only a few weeks after being assigned the case, U.S. District Judge David Hittner on Monday signed an order dismissing the case between Scruggs and former business partner William Roberts Wilson, Jr.

Terms of the settlement are confidential. Former Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter presided over Wilson's first lawsuit against Scruggs and was allegedly bribed by Scruggs and his legal team.

DeLaughter was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday for misleading federal investigators during their investigation.

Timothy Balducci teamed with Joey Langston to represent Scruggs in the original Wilson case. It is alleged that the two paid $1 million to former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters, who used to work with DeLaughter, to bribe the judge with the promise of a federal judgeship.

Scruggs pleaded guilty to the scheme earlier this year, receiving an extra 2 1/2 years on his current five-year prison sentence for a separate judicial bribery scheme. Langston received three years when he pleaded guilty to the scheme.

The five-count indictment against DeLaughter alleged he had improper ex parte communication with Peters and had urged Peters not to enter himself as counsel in the case. Scruggs' brother-in-law, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, would recommend DeLaughter for a federal judgeship, it is alleged.

Lott recommended someone else for the opening.

More than 20 years ago, Wilson, Alwyn Luckey and Scruggs each had their own stake in a group Scruggs started to file asbestos cases. Wilson and Luckey eventually sold their interests in more than 2,300 asbestos cases in agreements that were interpreted differently by all parties, and the two filed suit against Scruggs. Wilson filed his in 1994, and it dragged on for 12 years.

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 DeLaughter's interpretation of the contract showed no remaining balance owed to Wilson, and that a trial would have been merely for bragging rights.

A special master, though, had recommended Wilson be awarded $15 million. After Scruggs' criminal troubles, Wilson filed the other suit.

Scruggs was already 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.

Scruggs gained notoriety when his work helped lead to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion for the 52 participating territories and states. Mississippi is not one of them, but has its own separate agreement.

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

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