Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
OXFORD, MISS. � Lining the old-fashioned town square in Oxford are surprisingly ritzy boutiques, the oldest department store in the South, the quaint and historic red-brick City Hall, bistros, bookstores and lots of small law firms. “Courthouse square” � four blocks surrounding the 135-year-old Lafayette County Courthouse � is the epitome of “small town,” with old folks congregating on benches and coffee shop patrons greeting other regulars. It even features the requisite statue of a confederate soldier and confederate flag found in most Southern towns. But one thing on the square seems out of place: a black Porsche Cayenne SUV. It belongs to Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who moved The Scruggs Law Firm to the square four years ago from Pascagoula, Miss., on the coastline. Just like the Porsche, Scruggs, 61, never really fit in to this genteel town made famous by novelist William Faulkner. One of the wealthiest and most prominent plaintiffs’ lawyers in the country � who made his fortune suing tobacco and asbestos companies and was portrayed in the film, The Insider � the multimillionaire didn’t mix much with the local bar. Scruggs tried to make his mark in other ways. He gave $25 million to the University of Mississippi in Oxford, where he went to law school, to help raise salaries of liberal arts professors. His name was inscribed on a school building, and he frequently loaned school officials his plane. “The local Oxford bar is a relatively small group,” said Thomas Freeland IV, a lawyer on the Oxford square. “He was never really part of that, although he’s very prominent at the university.” But now Scruggs is making his name in other ways, and it’s not something anyone wants commemorated on the side of a building at “Ole’ Miss.” Scruggs was indicted with four others for allegedly trying to bribe a beloved local judge, sending shockwaves throughout this quaint town of 300 lawyers that reverberated throughout the state and beyond. “This is going to give Mississippi a bad name,” predicted Amy Stanfill, a first-year law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “Everyone perceives us as mint-julep-sippin’, seer-sucker-wearing judge bribers and good old boys. But we are just as upset about this as everyone else. These are just a few bad apples.” And the sense of scandal has grown now that Scruggs is reportedly under investigation in a matter involving fellow attorney Joey Langston in a second case involving bribery of a judge. Langston, another of the state’s most prominent attorneys, last month pleaded guilty to trying to influence Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in another case involving a fee dispute. Two other developments give Scruggs’ ordeal the feel of a John Grisham novel. Scruggs’ brother-in-law, Trent Lott, abruptly resigned from the U.S. Senate two weeks after Scruggs was indicted. Lott has denied any wrongdoing. Also, Scruggs was about to host a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. “There’s no question this has given lawyers in this state a black eye,” said Bobby Bailess, president of the Mississippi Bar and a Vicksburg lawyer. “The trust and the confidence we once had is down. The public’s trust needs to be restored and that’s going to take some time to happen. We need to remind everyone that this is an infinitesimal number of lawyers accused.” In a blow to Scruggs, the judge overseeing his bribery case denied a slew of defense motions on Feb. 25, including change of venue and motion to suppress wiretaps. Scruggs’ lawyer, John Keker of San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest, declined to comment. ‘Better to say nothing’ At first, the town of Oxford � and particularly Ole’ Miss � appeared to stand by Scruggs. The chancellor and mayor were quoted in articles defending Scruggs. Some law students at Ole Miss had “Free Dickie” T-shirts printed up. But the mood has changed now that evidence is piling up against Scruggs, two of the five defendants in the bribery case took plea deals to testify against Scruggs and wiretap transcripts of alleged calls between Scruggs and defendants who took pleas have been released. “Once Langston pled, it was all over for us,” said one local lawyer who declined to be identified. Now it’s hard to get anyone in the town to defend Scruggs � even at the university that was glad to take his cash. The university chancellor, vice chancellor and spokesman declined comment about Scruggs. Finally, when pressed about Scruggs’ contributions in the past, university spokesman Jeffrey Alford said, “Mr. Scruggs has been a great friend to the university for many, many years. He has been extremely generous to us.” Mayor Richard Howorth, who owns Square Books and is the brother of a local judge, appeared to distance himself from earlier remarks in support of Scruggs. “He hasn’t been here that long,” Howorth said. “It’s not like I’m his friend. “If you say something nice, you’re defending him and if you say something mean, you’re convicting him,” he added. “It’s better to say nothing.” Still, jokes are made at the law school these days by professors telling students to “learn how to write an appellate brief correctly so you won’t have to cut a check to some judge,” said Stanfill, the first-year law student. Thomas Freeland, a lawyer on the square, said, “in the legal community in Oxford, there is extraordinary shock that there was apparently an attempt to bribe one of our judges.” When asked if Scruggs was liked by the legal community before, Freeland said, “no.” He said envy could be part of the reason, but echoed what others have said: “He’s relatively new to the town. I don’t know him well.” Scruggs, his son and law partner Zach, fellow law partner Sidney Backstrom, and two others, lawyer Timothy Balducci and associate Steven Patterson, are charged with trying to bribe a highly respected Calhoun County judge, Henry Lackey. Federal prosecutors allege that Scruggs used Balducci as the go-between to approach the judge to rule in his favor in a fee-dispute case. Scruggs was set to get some $26 million in fees from the settlement of a case brought by Hurricane Katrina victims against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. Scruggs has spent years litigating with insurance companies over unpaid claims and has been assisting Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in his battles with the insurance companies. A co-counsel in the Katrina group, Mississippi lawyer John Griffin Jones, felt he wasn’t getting his fair share and sued Scruggs. This was the case for which the defendants allegedly tried to bribe Lackey. Lackey promptly called the FBI and cooperated with the sting investigation. Scruggs’ lawyers laid out his defense strategy in a slew of motions late last month. Keker stated that Balducci � who was hired by Scruggs to assist in the fee recovery � approached Lackey about helping him in the fee dispute. He argued that Balducci never brought up the subject of money but asked Lackey if he was interested in working for his new firm as an of counsel after he retired. The motion states that it was Lackey who brought up the subject of money, saying he needed the $40,000 “to take care of a problem.” Additionally, the defense asserts Lackey pursued Balducci aggressively, calling him seven times between the first phone call in May 2007 and a Sept. 21, 2007, meeting. Balducci did not return any of the calls, the motion says. “Not only did the government pursue Balducci to the point of manufacturing a crime for him, but it also engaged in a pattern of concealing from this Court the excessive government involvement in the alleged crime,” the motion asserts. Keker also argues that Balducci was not acting on behalf of Scruggs in any event, pointing to the fact that the day that Balducci delivered part of the payment, Lackey told Balducci, “if this is not . . . Mr. Scruggs’ money, I don’t want a nickel of it.” Balducci responded, “I want you to know . . . this is just between me and you, and just between me and you . . . this is just between me and you . . . there ain’t another soul in the world that knows about this.” Balducci later said about Scruggs � according to wiretap transcripts � “He’s not even involved at that level Judge . . . .He’s not involved in a direct manner, doesn’t wanna be. Doesn’t need to be.” His lawyers also argued that the government wiretaps of Balducci and associate Patterson � the “linchpin” of the government’s case � were illegal, as the affidavits seeking them were actually dated the day after the application seeking them. According to the motion to suppress, the government intercepted and recorded 12 conversations between Balducci and co-defendants. Balducci was wired after he bribed the judge and “flipped” for the government. He has since pleaded guilty and is cooperating, as is Patterson. In their motion to suppress the wiretaps, Scruggs’ lawyers had argued that the defendants did not discuss offering a monetary amount to Lackey. However, U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr., who presides over the Scruggs trial in Oxford, said Balducci’s offering Lackey a job as “of counsel” at Balducci’s law firm upon retirement constitutes “a clear and gross violation of all known code of ethics applicable to attorneys and judicial officers.” Biggers also stated that the mere fact that Balducci � who was not an attorney of record in the case � visited Lackey when the opposing counsel had no notice of the visit “amounts to an effort to corrupt the judge.” Biggers has flatly denied without explanation Scruggs’ motion for a change of venue. The Langston case Biggers has also denied a motion by Scruggs to exclude evidence against him in the Langston/DeLaughter case, in which Langston of Boonesville, Miss., pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiring to attempt in 2006 to corruptly influence DeLaughter. The government alleges that Langston, on behalf of Scruggs, approached DeLaughter about ruling in Scruggs’ favor on another fee dispute, this one involving asbestos cases dating back 10 years. The allegation is that Langston, Scruggs and others promised to help DeLaughter get a federal judgeship with the help of Scruggs’ relationship with former Senator Lott. Scruggs and Lott have denied wrongdoing in the matter. DeLaughter’s name was submitted for consideration for a judgeship, but he did not get it. He did not return phone calls for comment; however, he has publicly denied wrongdoing. DeLaughter is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, as well as the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, a state judicial watchdog. Scruggs has not been indicted in the Langston case, and it’s unclear whether the government intends to combine both fee-dispute cases in a superceding indictment. According to sources, the matter is in the hands of a grand jury. The trial of Scruggs, his son and Backstrom is scheduled for March 31.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.