Scruggs scandal: Joey Langston charged, cooperating with feds

by Walter Olson on January 13, 2008

Now we may have a better idea why prominent Booneville, Miss. lawyer Joseph Langston recently withdrew as counsel for Dickie Scruggs in the widening corruption scandal: per a report by Jerry Mitchell in Sunday’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Langston was himself nabbed on corruption charges, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal authorities. According to the article, Langston’s guilty plea arose from his involvement in one of Scruggs’s many fee disputes with fellow lawyers, this one being the Luckey-Wilson asbestos fee matter (in which Scruggs’ adversaries were Alwyn Luckey and William Roberts Wilson Jr.) Langston will apparently testify that he worked with both Dickie Scruggs and son Zach in an attempt to improperly influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who issued rulings favorable to Scruggs in the case. In one memorable detail, the C-L reports that federal authorities have obtained a May 29, 2006, e-mail in which “Zach Scruggs told his father’s attorney in the case, John Jones of Jackson, that ‘you could file briefs on a napkin right now and get it granted.’” Judge DeLaughter has denied any impropriety. (Jerry Mitchell, “Another lawyer pleads guilty”, Jan. 13). Separately, Patsy Brumfield of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, who was first with an unconfirmed report of Langston’s guilty plea, also reports from unnamed sources that federal prosecutors have flipped another of the five indictees in the original scandal, Steven Patterson (partner of informant Tim Balducci), and that documents to be unsealed Monday will clarify other aspects of the status of the case. (“First public clue Patterson has pleaded in Scruggs case”, Jan. 11; “Scruggs updates”, Jan. 12). Discussion: Lotus/folo, Jan. 12, Jan. 13.

The implications are enormous. Among them:

* It looks as if informant Balducci, who formerly practiced law in the Langston law firm, wasn’t kidding when he said he knew where there were “bodies buried“. Information from Balducci likely helped lead the feds to raid the Langston office and seize records documenting the alleged Wilson-Luckey conspiracy.

* Langston is no incidental Scruggs sidekick or henchman; he’s quite a big deal in his own right, with a national reputation in mass tort litigation. He’s been deeply involved in pharmaceutical liability litigation, in tobacco litigation, in litigation against HMOs, and in litigation against non-profit hospitals over alleged violations of their charitable charters, among other areas. Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, the law enforcement officer who has comically been playing potted plant as one after another of his closest political allies have been getting indicted in recent weeks, has employed Langston as lead counsel for the state in both the controversial Eli Lilly Zyprexa litigation and the even more controversial MCI back-tax-bill litigation. Langston also served Scruggs as go-between in the much-discussed funneling of $50 million in tobacco funds to ex-football player P.L. Blake (to whom now-reportedly-flipped Patterson was also close). If the reports that Langston is now cooperating with the feds are accurate, he will presumably be expected to tell what he knows about other episodes. (Langston has also endeavored to provide intellectual leadership for the plaintiff’s bar, as in this Federalist Society panel discussion presentation (PDF) in which he strongly criticizes the work on federalism and state attorneys general of Ted’s AEI colleague Michael Greve).

* Part of Scruggs’s modus operandi, as we know from tobacco and Katrina (among other) episodes, is to arrange to bring down prosecutions and other public enforcement actions on the heads of his litigation opponents. A particularly brutal instance of this crops up in today’s Clarion-Ledger piece, which reports that Scruggs in 2001 took documents obtained in discovery from Wilson, his fee-dispute opponent, and brought them to Hinds County (Jackson) district attorney Ed Peters hoping to instigate a state tax prosecution of Wilson:

Later, one of Wilson’s lawyers met with Peters, and [Wilson attorney Vicki] Slater said Peters told that lawyer that a “high-ranking public official” asked him to prosecute Wilson.

Peters could not be reached for comment.

Wilson did nothing to warrant criminal prosecution, Slater said. “All of this was to help Scruggs in his lawsuit.”

This is the same Dickie Scruggs of whom the New York Times was less than a year ago running moistly admiring profiles quoting common-man admirers of the Oxford, Miss.: lawyer: “good people. … If he tells you something, it’s gospel.”

P.S. It would certainly be interesting to know who that “high-ranking public official” who helped Scruggs in the tax-prosecution matter was, if there was one.

P.P.S. Corrected Monday a.m.: “Langston’s guilty plea was to an information; he waived indictment” (Folo). This post originally described Langston as pleading to an indictment.

{ 10 comments }

1 Jabetha 01.13.08 at 11:09 am

You should try owning and operating a business that services the public here in the ‘fine’ state of Mississippi.

2 Ed Sodaro 01.13.08 at 5:34 pm

The Mississippi lawyer industry is nothing more than a vast organized crime entity.

It is something akin to the competing Five Families of the Mafia, buying judges and politicians.

3 omega_revelator 01.13.08 at 8:51 pm

and don’t expect help from FBI, AG, or any other agency in MS if you do decide to own a business in public service in MS…..FBI is non-starter unless “public corruption” or “civl rights”, others all “too busy” [some are "too busy" screwing businesses to advance themselves or their agenda] many times a particular agency may be worse than the criminals you get hit by. MS is getting ready to enter the dark ages with its brand-new one-party system of govt – you ain’t seen nothing yet!

4 Merrell Williams 01.13.08 at 9:01 pm

Coincidentally, the story of Mississippi, et.al., and the big lawyer “heist”
is now published in Brasil.
Jogando Com a Mafia Do Tabaco. LGE Editora. Brasilia, DF, Brasil, [2007]; 285 pgs. Tranlation by Christina Elizabeth Daltro. Distribution is only in Brazilian Portugese, and is presently in national distribution throughout Brasil in the first edition. Odd as it seems,
the release planned for November, 2007, was delayed in production revisions pre-Christmas. The book is an insider view of Mississippi’s so-called Global Settlement. The introduction is by Brasil’s Attorney General, Wagner Goncalves, Subprocurador-Geral da Republica, Ministerio Publico Federal do Brasil. Attorney General Wagner Goncalves
finds that there are a lot of “advogados americanos inescrupulosos”
in the Tobacco Settlement.
Of course, that’s what it’s all about, but you have to know or understand Portugese to “get it”.

5 Ted 01.14.08 at 8:12 am

I wonder if the fact that Trent Lott is peripherally named in the DeLaughter allegations is enough to finally get the mainstream media involved. This is a gigantic scandal out of a Grisham novel and there’s next to no national coverage.

6 Brian Moore 01.14.08 at 10:31 am

Phun Phact: Bobby DeLaughter prosecuted Byron de la Beckwith, the white supremacist who murdered civil rights leader Megder Evers. Alec Baldwin played DeLaughter in the film “Ghosts of Mississippi.”

7 duaneage 01.15.08 at 12:34 pm

We’ll soon see them eat their own.

8 sfhwejaf 01.15.08 at 7:18 pm

Joey Langston just got caught in the middle of a scandal. He is the attorney of the Scruggs and in defending him he had to agree to a term he wouldn’t usually which put him at high risk. Joey Langston is not intentionally hiding or pursuing anything, he just caught up between a rock an a hard place.

Anyone that knows him knows how amazing of a man he is, so do some people a favor and discuss your politics and leave personal insults out of it. It’s horrible enough his family is having to watch this.

9 Jabetha 01.16.08 at 11:40 am

“Yesterday’s guilty plea by Booneville, Miss. attorney Joseph (“Joey”) Langston in the attempted improper influencing of a Mississippi state judge…”

Sure doesn’t sound like Mr. Langston is an amazing man who got “caught up between a rock an a hard place.”

Sounds more to me like he is a criminal. Make NO mistake world, the ‘legalized extortion’ which runs rampant in the state of Mississippi is absolutely killing our economy and continues to keep business from either locating to or staying.

I only wish more investigations such as this would be undertaken.

I wonder if all of the business-owners in Mississippi who have been extorted by these corrupt lawyers in the past can file actions to try and recover any money from them?

10 dfgrey 01.18.08 at 10:30 pm

You don’t know anything Jabetha. You’ve obviously never met Joey Langston and I know for a fact that I know him 1 million times better than you. The news is just feeding you BS because everything you’re reading in papers and on here, it’s not what this whole thing is actually about.

So continue to judge and rant on the internet about something you’re so ignorant about, but you aren’t correct.

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