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Fred Thompson

Scruggs indictment IX

by Walter Olson on December 12, 2007

Yes, it seems there were wiretaps. Defendants will be seeing evidence from the prosecution momentarily which might (or might not) be the trigger for further flipping and early plea deals, if such there will be.

There is enormous curiosity (e.g.) about P.L. Blake, to whom Scruggs says he paid $10 million (and tens of millions more in future payments) for vaguely described intelligence services aimed at swaying political influentials during the tobacco caper. Per a 1997 account posted at Y’All Politics, “Blake pleaded ‘no contest’ in 1988 to a federal charge that he conspired to bribe officials of the now-defunct Mississippi Bank to secure favorable loan terms.” The same article, citing reporting in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reports that Blake was in close phone contact between 1994 and 1996 with eventually-disgraced state Auditor Steve Patterson, who after leaving office went into partnership with Timothy Balducci and is one of the five indicted in the current Scruggs affair. Per AP, “Patterson was a banker at Mississippi Bank before his 1984-1987 tenure as head of the Mississippi Democratic Party.”

David Rossmiller, as so often, is out front with a report filling in background on two other controversies involving Blake. One arose from a venture into the grain storage business which landed him in a Texas dispute in which his attorney was none other than Fred Thompson, later a Tennessee senator and presidential candidate. The other arose from his cordial dealings with a former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).

Harper’s blogger Scott Horton has now published his take, as is his wont heavily dependent on hush-hush (but no doubt wholly trustworthy) confidential sources who float all sorts of theories about scoundrelly doings by the highly placed. He winds up with a theory that would pull Sen. Lott into it (though with no allegation of criminality) by way of the Acker contempt matter, as distinct from either the Balducci/Lackey bribery attempt or, say, the Paul Minor affair. Of Horton’s many anonymously sourced speculations, the one that caught my eye was tucked into a footnote: “A law enforcement official I interviewed, who for professional reasons asked to remain anonymous, told me that Scruggs’s junior partner Sidney Backstrom might take the same road as Balducci.” Now that is news a rumor (more). (Update Tues. evening: Backstrom’s attorney Frank Trapp flatly denies that anything of the sort is in the works: Patsy R. Brumfield, “Backstrom firm on innocence, his attorney says”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Dec. 12.)

This is probably a good place to apprise readers who aren’t aware of it that 25-odd years ago, while first gaining a footing in the policy world, I worked briefly on Capitol Hill drafting research papers for a committee then headed by Mr. Lott. We only talked a couple of times, I had never set foot in the state of Mississippi at the time, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, but if you’re a conspiracy theorist about such matters, there you have it.

At Y’All Politics, commenter “lawdoctor1960″ has some speculation as to why the remarkable deposition of Scruggs in the Luckey case didn’t get more media or political attention at the time.

Welcome Andrew Sullivan, David Rossmiller, Y’All Politics readers.

Attorney Tim Balducci’s role as deputized lawyer for the state of Mississippi in the MCI and Zyprexa cases is drawing public scrutiny, and may result in pressure for reform of AG outside contracting.

We’ve started a new “Scandals” category for readers who want quick access to coverage of the Mississippi mess, also stocked with some earlier links to coverage of such earlier blow-ups as Milberg Weiss/Lerach, Kentucky fen-phen, the Paul Minor affair, etc. For those who are following Scruggs posts in sequence, be aware that yesterday’s first and second posts fell outside the numbering scheme.

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Liability reform provided an early flashpoint last night, with Giuliani assailing Fred Thompson’s Senate voting record and Sen. Thompson offering a federalism defense. (Althouse, Oct. 21)(more; ritual disclaimer). More: the Giuliani site is hitting Thompson hard on the issue.

On yesterday’s radio program, host Hugh Hewitt asked me about the various GOP contenders’ stands on liability reform. I replied that for the most part they were clumped pretty closely together in strongly backing federal-level reform measures, the exception being Sen. Fred Thompson who has voted against several Congressional proposals to limit liability and has been backed fairly strongly by plaintiff’s lawyers in his campaigns. I added that Thompson has defended his votes on federalist principle and that his arguments on this point deserve a fair hearing; there are often plausible (and even compelling) federalist reasons to refrain from nationalizing areas of liability where the ultimate cost of state-court errors falls within states’ own borders rather than being dumped on residents of other states.

Those interesting in pursuing these questions can find more on Thompson’s views here, here, and here; on Giuliani’s here and here (and ritual disclaimer); on Romney’s here and here; and on Rep. Ron Paul’s, here (opposes Congressional involvement in malpractice reform on federalist grounds).

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Last year, New York City Mayor Bloomberg filed federal lawsuits against bunches of gun stores across the country; we’ve covered these suits extensively. (See, e.g. May 2006, Jun. 2006, Sep. 2006). NYC sent people to stores in places such as Georgia, Ohio, Virginia and South Carolina; these city agents then conducted “stings” in which they made supposedly illegal firearms purchases. Bloomberg then sued these stores, claiming that the guns were ending up in New York City and that the stores should for some reason be liable for this.

Somehow, despite the fact that whatever illegal sales took place did so in Georgia, Ohio, Virginia and South Carolina, the suit ended up in the Brooklyn courtroom of federal Judge Jack Weinstein, the man who has never seen a products liability case he couldn’t endorse. The gun stores moved to dismiss the suits on the grounds that New York courts have no jurisdiction.

Last week, Weinstein rejected the gun stores’ motion in a 99 page opinion (PDF) replete with anti-gun rhetoric (about criminals who “terrorize” the city and descriptions of guns as “Saturday Night Specials”) and citations to his own decisions in previous gun-litigation cases (Jul. 2003) So the suits will continue; a trial date has been set for January.

Republican presidential-non-candidate Fred Thompson doesn’t think much more of these suits than we do.

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July 31 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 31, 2007

  • Can’t possibly be true: Tampa man sentenced to 25 years for possession of pills for which he had a legal prescription [Balko, Hit and Run]

  • Plaintiff’s lawyers “viewed [Sen. Fred Thompson] as someone we could work with” and gave to his campaigns, but they can’t be pleased by his kind words for Texas malpractice-suit curbs [Washington Post, Lattman; disclaimer]

  • Pace U. student arrested on hate crime charges after desecrating Koran stolen from college [Newsday; Volokh, more; Hitchens]

  • Little-used Rhode Island law allows married person to act as spouse’s attorney, which certainly has brought complications to the divorce of Daniel and Denise Chaput from Pawtucket [Providence Journal]

  • Lott v. Levitt defamation suit kinda-sorta settles, it looks like [Adler @ Volokh]

  • Trial lawyer Mikal Watts not bowling ‘em over yet in expected challenge to Texas Sen. Cornyn [Rothenberg, Roll Call, sub-only via Lopez @ NRO]

  • Frankly collusive: after Minnesota car crash, parents arrange to have their injured son sue them for negligence [OnPoint News]

  • Canadian bar hot and bothered over Maclean’s cover story slamming profession’s ethics [Macleans blog]

  • Five Democratic candidates (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Biden, Richardson) auditioned at the trial lawyers’ convention earlier this month in Chicago [NYSun]

  • Donald Boudreaux’s theory as to why Prohibition ended when it did [Pittsburgh Trib-Rev via Murray @ NRO]

  • Speaker of Alaska house discusses recent strengthening of that state’s longstanding loser-pays law [new at Point of Law]

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The Fairness Doctrine

by Ted Frank on July 15, 2007

The left-wing websites parroting Senator Durbin’s demand for a return to the bad old days of the Fairness Doctrine might want to consider the slippery-slope repercussions; as Rasmussen reports, “Thirty-four percent (34%) believe the government should ‘require web sites that offer political commentary to present opposing viewpoints.’” More: Fred Thompson, Brian C. Anderson, Jesse Walker, John Berlau, Mike Franc, Adam Thierer. Bush has stated that he would veto any such measure.

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April 25 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 25, 2007

Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review analyzes the voting record of trial-lawyer-turned-Presidential-hopeful Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), and is kind enough to quote me (Apr. 20). Earlier: Apr. 10.

More: Thompson’s reply is here, and Ponnuru’s rejoinder here.

John Edwards may not be the only plaintiff’s attorney in the White House race:

Mr. Thompson [Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., much buzzed about as a late-entering Republican possibility] has also been criticized for failing to back some comprehensive tort-reform bills because of his background as a trial lawyer. Here he insists his stance was based on grounds of federalism. “I’m consistent. I address Federalist Society meetings,” he says, noting that more issues should be left to the states. For example, he cast the lonely “nay” in 99-1 votes against a national 0.8% blood alcohol level for drivers, a federal law banning guns in schools, and a measure limiting the tort liability of Good Samaritans. “Washington overreaches, and by doing so ends up not doing well the basics people really care about.” Think Katrina and Walter Reed.

(John Fund, “Lights, Camera . . . Candidacy?”, OpinionJournal.com/WSJ, Mar. 17).

On Sen. Thompson’s behalf, it can be said that he did co-sponsor the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was enacted into law after he left the Senate. Thus he presumably recognizes that in some situations, federal action can be necessary and proper to prevent a few state courts from imposing their views on the unwilling citizens of distant states. One hopes Thompson also goes so far as to realize that federal curbs on state-court litigation in those circumstances do not necessarily infringe on proper precepts of federalism and decentralization, but in fact can work in defense of them, by protecting the right to self-government of sister states and their citizens. The question is whether he has gone on to consider that quite a few other federal interventions into state-court litigation, in such areas as class actions, product liability and punitive damages, can be defended on very similar grounds (namely, that they are needed to restrain state courts from exporting their legal doctrines to other states) and thus are entirely consistent with “good federalist” precepts.

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“House Republicans are pushing legislation to protect airline passengers from lawsuits for reporting suspicious behavior that might be linked to a terrorist attack. Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, introduced the Protecting Americans Fighting Terrorism Act of 2007 on Thursday, a week after a lawsuit was filed by a group of Muslim imams who were taken off a US Airways flight in November.” (Dec. 6, Mar. 15, Mar. 22; Audrey Hudson, “Hill bill protects flying public”, Washington Times, Mar. 24). Syndicated columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin has been on top of developments (“The John Doe Manifesto”, National Review Online, Mar. 28; blog posts, Mar. 24, Mar. 27, Mar. 28).

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a response from the imams:

The imams’ Manhattan attorney, Omar Mohammedi, said the suit “is directed at the airlines and the airport, not passengers.”If someone has a legitimate security concern, we’re not going after that person,” he said. “Or if someone saw them praying and reported that out of ignorant fear, we aren’t going to target that.

“But if someone lied and made a false report with the intention to discriminate, such as in saying the imams made anti-American comments and talked about Iraq when in fact nothing like that ever happened, we have the right to challenge that,” Mohammedi said.

(Pamela Miller, “Attorney offers aid to defendants in imam suit”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Mar. 22). USA Today has editorially weighed in on the passengers’ side: “This legal tactic seems designed to intimidate passengers willing to do exactly what authorities have requested — say something about suspicious activity.” (“Our view on post-9/11 travel: Clerics’ lawsuit threatens security of all passengers”, Mar. 27; opposing view by Arsalan Iftikhar). See also Marc Sheppard, American Thinker, Mar. 27.

P.S. And now AP is on the case (“Imams removed from flight may sue passengers”, AP/MSNBC, Mar. 30), and Sen. Fred Thompson (“Suing for Silence”, National Review Online, Mar. 29). The imams have now amended their complaint to cast a seemingly less capacious net for John Does: Audrey Hudson, “Imams narrow target of ‘Does’”, Washington Times, Mar. 31.

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March 8 roundup

by Ted Frank on March 8, 2007

  • Why the tort reform movement is really a civil justice reform movement. [Point of Law; University of Dayton Law Review]
  • What to do about private securities class actions. [Wallison @ AEI]
  • Law firm sued when witness trips, dies, in courtroom accident. [Lattman]
  • Nifong responds to criticism of his handling of Duke Lacrosse case; KC Johnson not impressed.

  • Big corporations have bogus consumer fraud lawsuits, too: NutraSweet maker sues Splenda maker over “Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar.” [Legal Intelligencer]
  • The effect of a malpractice suit on a physician. [Levy via Kevin MD]
  • “Are our institutions or is our sense of justice stronger because of [the Libby] prosecution?” [Fred Thompson; WaPo oped; also many posts by Frum]

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