Scruggs in guilty plea

by Walter Olson on March 14, 2008

The WSJ and Mississippi’s WLOX have the news up on Dickie Scruggs’ plea of guilty to conspiracy in the attempted bribe of Judge Henry Lackey. Earlier today, the Journal had an illuminating page-one feature on Dickie Scruggs’s history of fee disputes with other lawyers. YallPolitics‘ server seems to be down at the moment from traffic, but is back up now; in an email alert, YP’s Alan Lange said the surprise plea came three days before the deadline for Scruggs to plead before his approaching trial. Our past coverage is here, or check our Scandals page.

Update 12:18 EST: AP coverage is here (via Rossmiller). Sid Backstrom also pleaded and, per Folo rapid updates, is cooperating with prosecutors. No deal for Zach Scruggs yet. Also per Folo, Scruggs pleaded to conspiracy in the Lackey bribe attempt but did not resolve possible charges in the DeLaughter case, per the government side.

12:44: Now Folo’s server has crashed. Temporary replacement site up here.

1:16: Per Patsy Brumfield at the NEMDJ:

…The government recommended a sentence of five years in prison for Scruggs and 2 1/2 years for Backstrom. They also will pay a maximum fine of $250,000 each and a court fee. …

Before Biggers accepted their pleas, Scruggs and Backstrom admitted in open court that they had done what the government said they had done in Count One – they had conspired to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City for a favorable order in a Katrina-related legal fees case….

Dickie Scruggs, arguably the most famous plaintiffs’ attorney in the U.S., looked pale and thin but carried himself with a bit more control than his younger colleague at The Scruggs Law Firm, headquartered on the storied Square in Oxford.

The 61-year-old Ole Miss Law School grad and legal giant-killer, as well as Backstrom, likely will voluntarily surrender their law licenses, as has co-defendant Timothy Balducci of New Albany, who pleaded guilty in December although he was wired and cooperating with the government at least a month earlier.

“Do you fully understand what is happening here today,” Biggers asked him.

“Yes, I do,” Scruggs responded.

Questioned about whether he had discussed his decision to plead guilty with his attorney, Scruggs responded, “With my attorney, my wife and my family.”

1:25 p.m.: Rossmiller has an update from a correspondent at the scene. And Folo is up at a temporary site until its server gets back online. Excerpts from Folo’s on-the-scene report:

…* Richard Scruggs is pleading to conspiracy to bribe a state court judge, count 1 of the indictment, with other counts to be dismissed. This was an open plea, that is, no recommended sentence.

* The government expects that he will get the full five year sentence on that count. …

* There was no mention of cooperation by Scruggs. …

* There was an interesting and unusual disagreement with the government’s statement of facts in the plea colloquy. The government stated in its facts for both Backstrom and Scruggs that a conspiracy began in March to corruptly influence the state court judge, and Scruggs spoke to say that he had agreed to earwig the judge but not corruptly influence him in March, and that he later agreed to join a conspiracy to corruptly influence the judge. Sid Backstrom took a similar stance….

[See also WSJ law blog and later NMC post, as well as WikiScruggs on "earwigging" as a Mississippi tradition.]

1:56: Welcome Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit and David Rossmiller/Insurance Coverage Blog readers.

3:18: The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports: “As part of the plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed to defer prosecution of Scruggs’ son, Zach Scruggs, who agreed to give up his license to practice law.” [N.B.: NMC @ Folo has a very different take, and other sites are also questioning the C-L's reporting on this point.] Folo at its temporary bivouac has PDFs of the Scruggs and Backstrom pleas and underlying facts, as does David Rossmiller. ABA Journal coverage includes the text of a forthcoming article by Terry Carter on the affair, written pre-plea. Other reactions: Above the Law (“has Scruggs employed bribery as a tactic in other matters — e.g., the tobacco cases that made him famous …?”), Beck and Herrmann (“What a week. First Spitzer, and now Scruggs. What goes around, comes around.”), TalkLeft, Michelle Malkin, NAM Shop Floor (“So what are the odds that this was Dickie Scruggs’ first and only crime during his decades-long career as a trial lawyer?”).

6:27: Roger Parloff wonders whether Scruggs will cooperate, and whether the statute of limitations might have run already on tobacco skullduggery. NMC @ Folo wonders what prosecutors will make of a slew of fresh documents from the Scruggs Law Firm, or whether perhaps such documents have already had an effect. Not so surprising a plea, says Jane Genova at Law and More, but rather “widely expected“.

{ 7 comments }

1 JB 03.14.08 at 2:24 pm

In light of this guilty plea, and the allegations in the DeLaughter case, one has to wonder how many judges and court officials he has successfully managed to bribe to gain successful outcome for himself.

Can defendants who have been on the wrong end of decisions have those cases reopened or appealed?

2 Jason Barney 03.14.08 at 5:14 pm

It would be quite the coincidence, don’t you think that the *only* time he ever bribed a judge he was caught?

3 Steve Eugster 03.14.08 at 8:47 pm

For your information — earwigging in Mississippi and the Scruggs Litigation:

http://wikiscruggs.blogspot.com/2008/03/earwigging-mississippi-tradition.html

4 Tom T. 03.15.08 at 12:15 pm

Jason, isn’t that the logic of punitive damages? “Wouldn’t it be a coincidence if this was the only Ford truck with a rollover problem?”

5 Walter Olson 03.15.08 at 7:16 pm

Tom T.’s point is perhaps a little too cute. Neither Jason nor anyone else on this site has called for Scruggs to be _punished_ for the other instances of misconduct whose likelihood is inferred, except insofar as they are brought in separate charges and proved at trial. So the appropriate parallel would be to the adverse inferences that might be drawn as a purely reputational matter against Ford after a rollover verdict.

6 Deoxy 03.17.08 at 11:20 am

“Jason, isn’t that the logic of punitive damages?”

No, the logic of punitives is to give proper incentives to large corporations or wealthy individuals, for whom a few hundred thousand dollars is no big deal.

7 Tom T. 03.17.08 at 4:47 pm

I was too cute, and Walter’s analysis is better than mine.

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