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Bringing to a close another chapter in the Scruggs scandals. [WSJ Law Blog]

A major development in the still-developing Scruggs judicial influence scandals. Coverage: Patsy Brumfield/Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tom Freeland and more, guestblogger S. Todd Brown (Buffalo lawprof) at Point of Law.

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June 24 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 24, 2011

  • “Law Prof Threatens Suit over University’s Plan to Reinstitute Single-Sex Dorms” [ABA Journal, WSJ Law Blog; John Banzhaf vs. Catholic U. in Washington, D.C.]
  • Mississippi: Dickie Scruggs files motion to vacate conviction in Scruggs II (DeLaughter case) [Freeland, YallPolitics] Before defending Paul Minor’s conduct in cash-for-judges scandal, review the evidence [Lange, YallPolitics and more]
  • Woman who filmed cop from own yard charged with obstructing his administration of government [BoingBoing]
  • East St. Louis, Ill. jury awards $95 million in sexual harassment, assault case against Aaron’s rental chain [ABA Journal]
  • Connecticut unions demand investigation of conservative Yankee Institute think tank [Public Sector Inc.]
  • “Court Upends $1.75M Award, Finding Plaintiff Lawyer’s Remarks Prejudicial” [NJLJ]
  • Hold it! San Francisco debates bathroom rights for schoolkids [C.W. Nevius, SF Chronicle]

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Blawg Review #220

by Walter Olson on July 13, 2009

Welcome to Blawg Review #220, rounding up some highlights of the past week from around the legal blogosphere. It’s my second time hosting it here at Overlawyered, a blog that as its name implies maintains a certain critical distance from many of the doings of the legal profession. Despite (or because of?) that, lawyers make up a large share of our most loyal and valued readers. Overlawyered just celebrated its tenth anniversary, which so far as I know (though someone may come along to prove me wrong) makes it the oldest blog about law.

In addition to being a blogger, I’m an author of books (The Litigation Explosion, The Excuse Factory, The Rule of Lawyers) as well as many articles and shorter pieces, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the think tank in New York City. Joining me in occasional posts is American Enterprise Institute resident fellow Ted Frank (who’s just launched a promising new venture called the Center for Class Action Fairness; his objection in a Bluetooth class action settlement won coverage in the NLJ on Friday) and even more occasionally by David Nieporent. Ted contributes a portion of this Blawg Review which is indented below.

Torts, Liability and Trial Practice

The week’s most widely blogged story, well documented by Above the Law, is a South Florida lawyer’s “Motion to Compel Defense Counsel To Wear Appropriate Shoes” at a personal injury trial, from fear that his opponent would employ a certain pair of hole-worn loafers to practice the arts of aw-shucksery on the jury. A mistrial resulted after press coverage of the motion came to the attention of jurors.

In other news, the Wall Street Journal law blog reported on the New York Yankees’ settlement with a fan who sued over not being allowed to get up and move about during the performance of “God Bless America”. Kevin Underhill at Lowering the Bar has the story of a Pomona juror who was really eager for deliberations to finish up so he could attend the Michael Jackson memorial, and wonders if the case was resolved unusually speedily that day.

On the plaintiff’s side, Steve Gursten of Michigan Auto Lawyers charges that the city of Detroit discourages the issuance of traffic tickets to its bus drivers as one way of dodging liability in subsequent accident cases where the driver’s record of violations could be used against the city. John Hochfelder at New York Injury Cases Blog says a lawsuit against the city subway system on behalf of a grossly drunk patron who tried to board between train cars is the sort of action that brings litigation into public disapprobation and might even fuel interest in relatively far-reaching reforms, like loser-pays. And Tennessee’s John Day catches a noteworthy automotive preemption case: “The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has ruled that a products liability claim was preempted by FMVSS 205, a safety standard that it says permits vehicle manufacturers to make a choice between tempered glass and laminated glass in side windows. … The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reached the opposite result in O’Hara v. General Motors Corp., 508 F.3d 753 (5th Cir. 2007).”

At Citizen Media Law, Andrew Moshirnia reports on a defamation lawsuit filed by a northern Illinois newspaper against a blogger: “That’s right, a newspaper (the Jeffersonian protectors of democracy) and a blogger (saving the world one lolcat at a time) are duking it out, each trying to out chill the other’s speech.”

The defense-side post of the week comes from the Beck & Herrmann team at Drug & Device Law. Mark Herrmann takes a big-picture look at how pharmaceutical product liability law has evolved over the past quarter century, and in particular how well it has done in pursuing the goal of appropriately screening out meritless cases. He gives the law a grade of “A” or thereabouts in tackling dubious expert testimony (with the Daubert revolution), in preventing the unwarranted extension of class action concepts from financial-injury cases to the realm of personal injury, and — a much newer development — in introducing serious scrutiny of claims at the pleading stage through the Supreme Court’s recent Twombly and Iqbal decisions. He is also relatively pleased with trends on preemption (despite the widespread view that defendants have suffered a decisive rebuke on that front) and on resistance to novel theories of action. On the other hand, he gives the courts a “D” on their handling of discovery and its burdens, and a grade of “F” when it comes to their overall inability to reduce the amount of litigation.

Emergency room doc/blogger White Coat has been serializing a first-person account of his malpractice trial; you can read parts eleven and twelve, bearing in mind that you’re coming in partway through the story. (The trial has concluded, but he’s not yet revealing how it ended.)

Stephanie West Allen at Idealawg, picking up on a discussion in Plaintiff magazine, says to watch out for how the other side is likely to retell your story: that way you won’t be surprised when the other side’s lawyer gets up at trial to claim the wolf was framed while portraying the scarlet-clad Miss Hood as the most heartless femme fatale since Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. And if you’re headed for alternative dispute resolution, Nancy Hudgins can tell you “A secret about mediators“.

In the News

Alas, in today’s wounded economy bankruptcy law is a standout practice area. In the case of General Motors, however, the process has gone far more quickly than most expected. John Wallbillich at Wired GC reflects on the giant automaker’s egg-timer reorganization: “The joke around Detroit is that GM went through bankruptcy in less time than it took outsiders pre-filing to get a response to voicemails and schedule a meeting.” On the consumer side, BankruptcyProf Blog (via Carolyn Elefant, Legal Blog Watch) reports that bankruptcy filings in the Central District of California have risen sharply over the year, up more than fifty percent from 5,999 in January to 9,578 in June. The year-over-year increase since the first half of 2008 is 45 percent.

Disgraced lawyer Marc Dreier is due to be sentenced this week for some of the worst defalcations laid to the account of an American lawyer in many a year; Peter Henning has commentary at the WSJ Law Blog. At a newly launched blog called Unsilent Partners, two well-known figures in the blogosphere, Colin Samuels of Infamy and Praise and Mike Semple Pigott of Charon QC, discuss recent white-collar criminal sentencing, the point of departure being federal judge Denny Chin’s sentencing of Bernard Madoff to a 150-year term.

The week’s biggest upcoming legal story is likely to be the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and I’ll turn the floor over to colleague Ted Frank for some remarks on that:

The Sotomayor nomination continued to be a notable topic in the legal blogosphere this week. Jennifer Rubin noted that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, sharing Judge Sotomayor’s position favoring race-based preferences, had thrown his support behind her nomination. Meanwhile, Eric Turkewitz’s previous investigation of the judge’s “Sotomayor and Associates” law practice and the ethical implications of her choice of firm name was picked up by the New York Times, albeit (as he and Scott Greenfield both noted) without any recognition of Turkewitz’ key role in bringing this issue to light. Greenfield criticized the Times: “make no mistake about it. [Turkewitz] is the source of the New York Times story, and the absence of his name, and his blawg, in the piece is a shoddy reflection of its journalistic integrity. Don’t ask the blawgosphere to love you when you won’t love us back, boys.” But Windy Pundit defended the Times. Turkewitz found the Administration’s explanations and justifications of Sotomayor’s choice to be unpersuasive; some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee may as well, and they’ve been in contact with Turkewitz. Beldar’s reaction to the Associates flap: Meh. The WSJ Law Blog looks at the “meticulousness” characterization of Sotomayor. Stuart Taylor has a must-read blog post on how the Sotomayor panel almost succeeded in burying the Ricci case through its summary order; having failed to bury the case, Sotomayor’s supporters are making personal attacks on Ricci, who will be testifying at Sotomayor’s hearing, himself. Heather Mac Donald calls for tough questioning of Sotomayor about Ricci. If you plan on attending the hearing, watch what you wear. The Federalist Society is sponsoring an on-line debate on the nomination that includes lawyer-bloggers Tom Goldstein and Ed Whelan. And Jonathan Adler asks questions about that 1100-professor-petition in favor of Sotomayor’s nomination.

The D.C. Circuit ruled that police checkpoints in Washington, D.C., along “State Your Business, Citizen” lines, violate the Fourth Amendment. Ken at Popehat is glad. More: Volokh, Greenfield.

Allegations of egregious racial discrimination at the swimming pool of a northeast Philadelphia club are making news and seem likely to break out before long as a national story. Max Kennerly of The Beasley Firm tells the story and analyzes its legal implications here and here, while Jon Hyman recalls memories of growing up near the club.

Finally, the Scruggs judicial scandals may have faded from the national headlines in the past year but in Mississippi they’re still very much an unfolding story. Tom Freeland at North Mississippi Commentor continues to track developments.

Advice for clients

Week in and week out, one of the functions legal blogs fulfill is to advise clients and prospective clients on when to use lawyers and what to expect when using them. Thus Hingham-based Danielle Van Ess explains what estate planning does and who needs it at her blog on Massachusetts wills, trusts and estates law. At South Carolina Family Law, Ben Stevens offers a list of Facebook “don’ts” for divorcing couples, which might usefully be read in conjunction with Lawyerist’s advice on how to subpoena Facebook pages. Of course cutting through the hype is important, which is why potential clients susceptible to being impressed by “Super-Duper-Lawyer” awards and commendations might want to check out Brian Tannebaum’s amusing discovery that “in Gainesville, Florida, apparently two Super criminal defense lawyers are prosecutors”. Whoops!

Employment law

Perhaps the week’s most buzzed-about employment law case came from Hartford where veteran political reporter Shelly Sindland filed a sex and age bias complaint against Tribune Co.’s Fox 61, charging that execs at the TV station rewarded female on-air talent on the basis of bodily attractiveness rather than conventional journalistic criteria. Daniel Schwartz at his Connecticut employment law blog took a relatively sober look (and followup), but given its mature content this was a story destined to wind up at Above the Law, which gave it the full treatment.

Employees’ sometimes-imprudent talk both on the job and off continues to provide steady fodder for employment law decisions and controversies. Doug Cornelius discussed a New Jersey decision on whether and when an employer can read an employee’s email to her lawyer sent from a company-owned laptop. At Employee Rights Post, Ellen Simon discussed a recent Ninth Circuit case in which a school employee got in trouble for inflammatory online remarks. And Jon Hyman at Ohio Employer’s Law wonders how employers are supposed to avoid what has been called a “sexualized work environment” offensive to some employees when the popular culture seeping in to the workplace from all sides is often itself highly sexualized, a topic that has come up in these columns as well.

Commercial, business and tax law

Unincorporated Business Law Blog brings word of a bill being introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to crack down on state-incorporated “shell” corporations. Corporate law specialist Larry Ribstein of the University of Illinois writes, “The motivation for this piece of legislative detritus seems to be that since a tiny percentage of LLCs are being used for criminal activity let’s wreck LLCs for all firms. Hey, sounds sensible to me.”

In other news, Peter Pappas awarded his “Rick Moranis Awards” for the best tax nerd blogs. Kevin LaCroix at D & O Diary has an update on the rising tide of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement activity. Charon QC conveys a bit of gossip about the questionable contract terms prescribed by a well-known U.K.-based real estate firm. And Ken Adams at Adams Drafting advises that if contract-drafting seems like a boring and unrewarding part of your work day, you’re probably not doing it right.

Finally, this unsettling observation from Dan Harris at China Law Blog: “If you owe money to a Chinese company for product and you cannot pay all of your creditors, skip out on the Chinese company. Near as I can tell, there is nearly a 100% chance they will never sue you to recover.”

Intellectual property law

The Pope issued an encyclical earlier this month which, notes Cal Law Legal Pad, included the following statement: “On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.” If the pontiff wasn’t upset by the story of the Mexican yellow bean patent recounted by Patently-O, it’s probably because he hadn’t heard of it. Speaking of moral authority, The Prior Art takes GOOD magazine to task for according a glowing profile to a systematic asserter of patent license rights whom some might belittle as Totally Reliant On Litigation Leverage, and suggests the magazine missed a chance to evaluate the gap between what might be remunerative legal-business strategy and what is beneficial to society. For a more upbeat view of the value of patents in spurring innovation since colonial days, Gary Odom at Patent Hawk offers a short history of patents in America.

Finally, I blogged last week about the lawsuit filed by Pez against a Pez museum that some fans had set up in California’s San Mateo County, but Ron Coleman at Likelihood of Confusion was funnier about it.

Legal issues of new media

Remember the unsuccessful suits by companies upset to discover that when Google users searched on their firm’s name, AdWords would serve them an ad for some competitor? Ryan Gile at Vegas Trademark Attorney thinks Mary Kay Cosmetics faces an “uphill battle” in a new suit against Yahoo (over mouseover search popups in email) that raises some similar issues. And Venkat Balasubramani raises the question whether Twitter has been lax, or clever, or both, in letting various other entities use Twitter-related words and phrases in their own names and promotions.

At gamelaw blog Law of the Level, Shawn Foust discussed how online games can protect the integrity of their online currencies from thefts, at least until a corps of “Space Prosecutors” can be formed. And Eugene Volokh brings news from Michigan of one of the first, if not the first, libel lawsuits arising from Wikipedia edits. It seems to raise garden-variety rather than novel issues, though, and is not filed against Wikipedia itself.

Family law

In the U.K., Justice Minister Jack Straw has announced a second round of family-court reforms. Lucy Reed at Pink Tape is anything but enthusiastic about some of the “de-lawyerizing” aspects of the proposals. John Bolch at Family Lore comments as well, and separately notes “that Conservative think tank the Centre for Social Justice will recommend that there be a compulsory three-month ‘cooling off’ period before divorce proceedings can be commenced, one of a number of proposals contained in a report Every Family Matters, to be published [July 13].” Presumably coincidentally, here in the U.S., Solangel Maldonado at Concurring Opinions considers whether current divorce laws unduly steer couples toward ending marriages rather than working through difficulties: “Given society’s interest in marriage and all of the negative consequences of divorce, should law incentivize couples to repair the marriage after infidelity? … many couples do reconcile after separation. Maybe they would not have done so had they been able to seek a divorce immediately.”

“Father Shall Not Use Profanity or Racial Epithets in the Boys’ Presence or Within Their Earshot”. Eugene Volokh wonders about the free speech implications.

Law schools

It being July, law schools are relatively quiet on the student front, but certainly not on the faculty front. Hackles have been rising over the NYU law school’s selection of Li-Ann Thio for a visiting spot in human rights law, given that in her native Singapore Thio crusaded against rights for gays. [Above the Law]. Jane Genova at Law and More covers a judge’s threatened sanctions against Harvard lawprof Charles Nesson for posting deposition excerpts online from a case in progress in which he is helping defend music downloaders. And although Ave Maria Law School is not a part of the Roman Catholic Church, it is asserting church autonomy as a defense to a suit filed by several former faculty members; Howard Wasserman at Prawfsblawg and Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice discuss.

Many would have nominated law schools as a nearly recession-proof sector of the economy, but that’s turned out to be wrong, what with bleak prospects for many new graduates and sometimes plunging endowments at parent institutions. Famed UCLA lawprof Stephen Bainbridge asks “Is Law a Mature Industry?” and examines the implications for legal education (do we really need at least ten new law schools, as are on the drawing board now?), while the Canadian site Law21.ca wonders whether the demographics of an aging world mean that we can “say goodbye to a lot of law schools“.

State of the blawgosphere

There’s nothing like a discussion of the state of blogs to get people going. At Crime and Federalism, Mike Cernovich thinks legal blogs have gone downhill since he got online: things have grown cliquish, and the “biggest – and worst – change to the legal blogosphere has been the Rise of the Marketers,” the ones who are intent on promoting their firms and practices but don’t have anything in particular to say. If bloggers get cliquish, notes Robert Ambrogi, it’s only human nature: “With too many blogs to choose from, we tend to stick with those we know and find comfort with.”

Have you ever considered turning the best bits of your blog into a book? Join the club. Evan Schaeffer at Legal Underground shows how to make a convincing case for that kind of transformation.

Finally, if you’re looking for an old-fashioned blogger dustup complete with asperity and risk of hurt feelings, Scott Greenfield is feeling snappish toward Adrian Dayton and several others on a variety of topics that include Generation Y, social media and work/life balance (Greenfield’s basically against the latter: “When the going gets tough, no one needs a lawyer who leaves the office whenever they have something more fun to do.”) Diane Levin suggests room for accommodation, which however is not forthcoming.

Need a break from contentiousness? Check out Scott Kreppein’s pictures of the Bronx County courthouse, a building that boasts marmoreal, heroic bas-relief sculptures in what I believe is the early-FDR-period style referred to as “Greco-Deco“.

International

For a view of American law from Central and Eastern Europe, Bruce MacEwen at Adam Smith Esq. interviews Tomasz Wardynski of a large Warsaw law firm. At Arbitration Forum, Kenneth Cloke tells “Why We Need to Mediate [International] Environmental Conflicts“. Cynthia Alkon at ADR Prof brings word that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the African nation of Liberia released its report this week. Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris reports on the possible disintegration of Belgium (Flanders is thinking of pulling out). Is the EU actually going to hasten the breakup of some of its ethnically diverse member states? Charon QC decides to find out how easy it is to pry information out of private British law schools. And proving that the U.S. is not always in the forefront of colorful litigation, a Polish mother has sued saying that her 13-year-old daughter came back pregnant from an Egyptian resort because of, er, male-related contamination of the hotel’s swimming pool. Michael Krauss has the story at the Manhattan Institute law blog Point of Law (disclosure: I’m its editor and also blog there).

Many thanks to Colin Samuels and Victoria Pynchon for their helpful suggestions on links to use. H. Scott Leviant will be hosting Blawg Review #221 at The Complex Litigator next week. Blawg Review has information about that, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues. [Edited 1 pm Monday to remove one link at the request of its site]

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February 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2009

  • Golfer’s ball bounces off yardage marker and hits him in eye, and he sues; not the Florida case we blogged last month, this one took place in New Hampshire [Manchester Union-Leader]
  • Who needs democracy, much easier just to let the Litigation Lobby run things: elected Illinois lawmakers keep enacting limits on med-mal awards, but trial-lawyer-friendly Illinois Supreme Court keeps striking them down, third round pending at the moment [Peoria Journal-Star, Alton Telegraph, Illinois Times, Reality Medicine (ISMS)]
  • “A sword-wielding, parent-killing psychopath can be such a help around the house.” [we have funny commenters]
  • Brooklyn lawyer Steven Rondos, charged with particularly horrendous looting of incapacitated clients’ estates [earlier], said to have served the New York State Bar Association “as vice president of its guardianship committee” [NYPost]
  • Updated annals of public employee tenure: Connecticut state lawyer who assumed bogus identity to write letter that got her boss fired drew a $1000 fine as well as a reprimand — and then got a raise [Jon Lender/Hartford Courant and more, earlier here and here]
  • Judge Bobby DeLaughter indicted and arraigned as new chapter of Dickie Scruggs judicial-corruption story gets under way in Mississippi; Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson, central figures in Scruggs I, each draw 2-year sentences [NMC/Folo and more, more, YallPolitics, more, earlier on Balducci, DeLaughter]
  • Disney “Tower of Terror” ride not therapeutic for all patrons: British woman sues saying she suffered heart attack and stroke after riding it several times [AP]
  • Convicted of torching his farm, Manitoba man sues his insurance company for not making good on policy [five years ago on Overlawyered]

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Ed Peters, the former Hinds County (Jackson) prosecutor who’s been a central figure in the still up-in-the-air Peters-DeLaughter branch of the Scruggs scandals, has turned in his law license (via) amid much Mississippi speculation that he is cooperating with prosecutors and that other developments are imminent. NMC at Folo tries to sort things out. And, just in time to be helpful, Alan Lange of YallPolitics has an article summarizing the scandal as it’s developed thus far.

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“.

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Some developments of the past ten days or so:

* In major blow to defense, Judge Biggers denies motions to suppress wiretap evidence and evidence of similar bad acts [Rossmiller]

* Balducci says he and Patterson got $500K from Scruggs to influence AG Hood to drop indictment of State Farm, motive being to advance civil settlement [Folo]

* WSJ gets into the act with some highlights of wiretap transcripts [edit page; earlier here]

* Sen. Trent Lott says he’s a witness, not a target, of federal investigation [Anita Lee, Biloxi Sun-Herald]

* Scruggs off the hook on Alabama criminal contempt charge [WSJ law blog, Rossmiller, Folo]

* “Mr. Blake has served for many years as a conduit and a layer of separation, if you will, between Mr. Scruggs and other people on sensitive issues.” (Balducci transcript highlights, Folo; more)

* In effort to get Zack Scruggs indictment dismissed, his lawyers dwell on switch from “y’all” to “you” as implying shift in persons addressed from plural to singular [Folo first, second; Rossmiller first, second; on a "sweet potatoes" point, NMC @ Folo and sequel; also]

* DeLaughter/Peters branch of scandal reaches deep into Jackson legal community [Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press]

* Article in new American Lawyer notes that Scruggs’s ambitious suits have lately hit a big losing streak, notably those against HMOs, nonprofit hospitals and Lehman Brothers [Susan Beck]. And Lotus catches an interestingly lawyerly wording on John Keker’s part [Folo]

* I’m quoted and this site is discussed in an article on blog coverage of the case; my lack of clarity as an interviewee probably accounts for Scruggs being said to have addressed audiences at the Manhattan Institute “a few” times, when if memory serves the correct reference is “twice”. [Patsy Brumfield, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo) @ Folo]

* For more background see our Scandals page; also YallPolitics.

Alan Lange and commenters are jumping in to excerpt some of the more damning excerpts (YallPolitics Feb. 19; more). And in the department of curious wordings, from the Jackson Clarion Ledger: “Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter has told federal authorities he became aware in 2006 that some people were trying to improperly influence him to rule in favor of lawyer Dickie Scruggs in a Hinds County legal-fees dispute. DeLaughter told authorities he didn’t know whether he was influenced [emphasis added] but says he’s followed the law in all his rulings.” (Jerry Mitchell, “Judge: Efforts to sway made”, Feb. 24).

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Big news day in the Scruggs scandals: a judge has turned down defense motions to throw out the charges and to suppress the evidence, a hearing on those motions has showcased the testimony of government informant Tim Balducci, and the government in responding to the motions has released extensive and often quite damning transcripts of the wiretap conversations among the principals. Folo as usual provides the most in-depth coverage, with posts on the judge’s rulings here and here, on the hearing and Balducci’s testimony here and in numerous preceding posts, and on the wiretap transcripts here and in numerous preceding posts. David Rossmiller is on the judge’s ruling here, and on the hearing and transcripts here. More: Patsy Brumfield, NEMDJ, was at the courthouse.

Picking through the rich contents of the transcripts and Balducci’s testimony is going to keep Scruggsians busy for a good long time. In the meanwhile, some odds and ends:

* Want to review all the major events of the central alleged bribery case, skillfully narrated in chronological sequence? Of course you do. Folo’s NMC has it in six parts beginning here and ending here (follow links to find those in between).

* John Grisham’s “Too Dumb for Dickie” theory encounters some serious strain [Rossmiller and again]

* Mississippi legislature won’t give AG Jim Hood authority to wiretap his enemies suspected white-collar criminals. Gee, wonder why that might be? [WLBT via Lange] Plus: description of Hood as a Pez dispenser coughing out multi-million-dollar cases for his chums [Rossmiller]

* More unpretty details surface on Scruggs’s (and other lawyers) use of informants in Katrina litigation [Rossmiller] and tobacco [Lange]

* More Hood: prosecuting the accused judge-bribers “would be like prosecuting a relative” [Salter, Clarion-Ledger, Rossmiller, Folo]. Give back tainted money? “That’s up to DAGA [Democratic Attorneys General Association]” [Lange]

* Former Louisiana attorney general Richard Ieyoub gets a mention, as does Sen. Trent Lott [Folo, same] Update: feds investigating what Sen. Lott knew [WSJ]

* Small world, Mississippi: member of arbitration panel that awarded Scruggs huge fees was later hired by the tort potentate for legal work [Lange]

* Blogosphere has been a major source for breaking news on the scandal [LegalNewsLine]

* Liberal columnist Bill Minor recalls when a certain Sen. McCain let Dickie Scruggs and Mike Moore run their tobacco lobbying campaign out of his Hill office [NEMDJ via Folo; more at PBS "Frontline" and NY Times]

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* Pertinacious Scruggs effort to evade deposition by State Farm attorneys results in “testosterone fiesta” of swaggering counsel (Folo; sequel; YallPolitics; Rossmiller); (P.S. Yes, Ted and I independently noticed and posted on this just minutes apart.)

* Remember when Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood declared his political patron Scruggs a “confidential informant”, thus throwing a most useful cloak of protection over him in his battle against contempt charges? It happens that Scruggs was at almost exactly the same moment donating large sums to the Democratic Attorneys General Association which seem to have passed through like a dose of salts to emerge at the other end as donations to Hood (YallPolitics; earlier on DAGA)

* Attorney Ed Peters, tagged with a pivotal role in Langston-DeLaughter branch of scandal, was formerly high-profile local D.A.; his prosecutorial vendetta against an attorney named J. Keith Shelton comes in for scrutiny in a new series by Folo proprietor Lotus [#5 in series; posts tagged Peters; see also YallPolitics]

* Folo co-blogger NMC, looking into Luckey and Wilson fee disputes (earlier here, here, here), is rattled by the prevalence of hearings-without-notice, ex parte judicial contacts, and other Gothic proceduralisms [Folo];

* Implications or non-implications for civil proceedings of Scruggs’s taking the Fifth [White Collar Crime Prof Blog]

* Adam Cohen of the NYT and Scott Horton of Harper’s claim defendants in precursor Minor-Teel-Whitfield scandal were railroaded on vague charges over not-really-illegal stuff; read pp. 6-9 of the indictment and see whether you agree (YallPolitics);

* For Mississippi, it’s already the most far-reaching corruption scandal in a century, aside from the question of how much bigger it might get [Jackson Clarion-Ledger]

Earlier Scruggs coverage on our scandals page.

* “The FBI is expanding its probe into Mississippi’s judicial bribery scandal to examine other cases involving Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter and his former boss, longtime District Attorney Ed Peters.” The pair surfaced in the Scruggs annals not long ago when Joey Langston pleaded guilty to involvement in a 2006 scheme to get DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs’s favor in a fee lawsuit, which allegedly included the funneling of $1 million of Scruggs’s money to Peters, who was viewed as close to the judge. (Jerry Mitchell, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jan. 28). Rumors have been rife that Peters, DeLaughter or both may be cooperating with authorities, which might strengthen prosecutors’ hand in securing further evidence of the scheme.

* Perhaps relatedly, to quote Folo’s contributor NMC, “In the case against Dickie Scruggs over allegations of bribing Judge Lackey, the prosecution has filed a Notice of Intent to Introduce ‘similar acts evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b), Fed. R. Evid., at the trial’”. See Patsy R. Brumfield, “Prosecutors ready to say bribery attempts aren’t anything new”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Jan. 28.

* With what might seem like startlingly bad timing, Scruggs chum/novelist (and campaign donation co-bundler, if that’s the right term) John Grisham is just out with a new fiction entitled The Appeal, whose thesis, to judge by Janet Maslin’s oddly favorable review in the Times, is that the real problem with the Mississippi judicial system is that salt-of-the-earth plaintiff’s lawyers are hopelessly outgunned in the task of trying to get friendly figures elected to judgeships to sustain the large jury verdicts they win. One wonders whether any of Maslin’s editors warned her about recent news events — she doesn’t seem aware of them — that suggest that the direst immediate problems of the Mississippi judiciary might not relate to populist plaintiff’s lawyers’ being unfairly shut out of influence. Of course it’s possible she’s not accurately conveying the moral of Grisham’s book, and if so I’m not likely to be the first to find out about it, since I’ve never succeeded in reading more than a few pages of that popular author’s work. By the way, if you’re wondering which character in the novel Grisham presents as the “hothead with a massive ego who hated to lose,” yep, it’s the out-of-state defendant.

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NY Times on Scruggs, again

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2008

Yesterday’s extensive New York Times piece by Nelson D. Schwartz, the lead story in the paper’s Sunday business section, once again (see Dec. 9) provides strong overall perspective on the scandal, along with tidbits that will be new to all but the most obsessed (or most locally knowledgeable) followers of the affair. It focuses in particular on ever-more-central scandal figure P.L. Blake, sometimes known as the $50 million man, of whom we learn:

In interviews, other Mississippi political figures suggest that Mr. Blake has played a key role for Mr. Scruggs over the years. “P. L. essentially has done all the back-room negotiating for Dickie, but you’ll never see his tracks,” says Pete Johnson, a former state auditor who is now co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, a federal agency with headquarters in Clarksdale, Miss. …“He was the nexus of his political network.”

Incidentally, and presumably unrelatedly, former Times insurance-beat reporter Joseph Treaster, whose profiles of Scruggs in years past I’ve had occasion to blast as epically credulous, is departing the paper to teach journalism at the University of Miami, per Romenesko.

Anita Lee of the Biloxi Sun-Herald is also out with another good background piece, including the results of inquiries into a topic of widespread interest, namely the circumstances under which Judge Bobby DeLaughter’s name was not put forward for a federal judgeship even though (according to prosecutors) such a prospect had been dangled by conspirators hoping to improperly influence his rulings on a key Scruggs fee case:

Sen. Thad Cochran’s office told the Sun Herald that DeLaughter’s name was one of those mentioned for the appointment, but would not say which candidates Lott and Cochran privately discussed to recommend to President Bush. The office said Cochran wants to respect the privacy of candidates for the position. … Government evidence indicates DeLaughter e-mailed at least one order to Peters so he could pass it along for pre-approval from Scruggs’ attorneys.

Investigators are presumably taking an interest in confirming the account of Sen. Lott, who is Scruggs’s brother-in-law, that he raised DeLaughter’s name only as a brief and passing “courtesy” as opposed to making a serious effort on the candidate’s behalf (more). And a commenter at Folo points to a passage deep in the now-fabled Luckey transcript which is highly suggestive as to the possible ways in which a large share of P.L. Blake’s millions in tobacco fees might not have remained for long in Mr. Blake’s possession (more).

Earlier coverage can be found on our scandals page.

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Folo has posted (PDF) the information on which Joseph (Joey) Langston entered a guilty plea. A sample:

5. Between on or about July of 2006 and July of 2007, JOSEPH C. LANGSTON, Steven A. Patterson and the close personal friend of Robert “Bobby” DeLaughter split $3,000,000, representing the savings to Scruggs as a result of rulings in favor of Scruggs by Judge DeLaughter resulting in a settlement of the case.

A couple of points:

* The identity of the unnamed “close personal friend” of Judge DeLaughter was not revealed in the information, but it is widely assumed that that friend is a reasonably prominent former prosecutor in the state and that that figure may be cooperating with the feds. Since Patterson is also reported to be cooperating with the feds, and presumably will be asked to tell what he knows about this episode as well as the original Judge Lackey bribery attempt, that would make three principals in the DeLaughter/Wilson affair prepared to cooperate with prosecutors. The splitting of $3 million from Scruggs would also presumably leave the sort of paper trail that could not easily be disguised as lunch expense reimbursements and the like.

* The alleged quid pro quo that was to be offered to Judge DeLaughter — who has at all times firmly denied improper influence — is not money, but consideration for promotion to the federal bench. Judge DeLaughter was in fact considered for a recommendation to such appointment by the office of Scruggs’s brother-in-law, Sen. Trent Lott, but was not in the event appointed. It can be anticipated that the circumstances of that non-appointment — his brush with appointment, as it were — will come under close scrutiny.

Earlier here.

P.S. YallPolitics has a PDF link of the Patterson plea and David Rossmiller has a lengthy array of documents from PACER.

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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.

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