- “IP Lawyer Who Spotted Expired Patent on Solo Cup Lid Loses Quest for Trillions in Damages” [ABA Journal, earlier on “false markings” suits here, here, etc.]
- Like we’re surprised: Linda Greenhouse favors sentimental (“Poor Joshua!”) side in 1989 DeShaney case and hopes Elena Kagan does too [NYT Opinionator, my take a few years back]
- Why is Le Monde in financial trouble? For one thing, firing a printing plant employee costs €466,000 [Frédéric Filloux, Monday Note via MargRev]
- “Will these salt peddlers stop at nothing?” Michael Kinsley on NYT sodium-as-next-tobacco coverage [Atlantic Wire]
- “‘Victim’ Gets $4.17 Coupon, Lawyers Get $10 Million Cash”: Expedia class action settlement [John Frith, California Civil Justice Blog]
- Scruggs investigation finally over as feds drop probe of political operative P.L. Blake; several figures in Mississippi scandal are up for release soon from prison [Jackson Clarion Ledger]
- $20 billion Gulf spill fund: “Oil Gushes and Power Rushes” [Sullum, Althouse]
- “NYC Naked Cowboy to Naked Cowgirl: Stop copying me” [AP]
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]
* Sen. Trent Lott says he’s a witness, not a target, of federal investigation [Anita Lee, Biloxi Sun-Herald]
* 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]
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.
Yesterday’s guilty plea by Booneville, Miss. attorney Joseph (“Joey”) Langston in the attempted improper influencing of a Mississippi state judge would be major news even if it had nothing to do with the state’s most famous attorney, Richard (“Dickie”) Scruggs. That’s because Langston and his Langston Law Firm have themselves for years been important players on the national mass tort scene. The firm’s own website, along with search engines, can furnish some details:
- Per the firm’s website, it has represented thousands of persons claiming injury from pharmaceuticals, including fen-phen (Pondimin/Redux), Baycol, Rezulin, Lotronex, Propulsid and Vioxx. It was heavily involved in the actions against Bausch & Lomb over ReNu contact lens solution (and its former #2 Timothy Balducci, the first to plead in the widening round of corruption scandals, won appointment to the steering committee of that litigation.)
- The Langston firm has represented thousands of asbestos claimants and says it has “significant” experience in the emerging field of manganese welding-rod litigation, also a specialty of the Scruggs law firm. The website AsbestosCrisis.com includes the Langston law firm in its listing of about thirty law firms deemed notable players on the plaintiff’s side of asbestos litigation (“Tiny firm founded by Joe Ray Langston powerhouse in Mississippi with 50-year roots in state political circles.”)
- Langston appeared to play a sensitive insider role for Scruggs in the largest and most lucrative legal settlement in history, the tobacco-Medicaid deal between state attorneys general and cigarette companies, the ethical squalor of which was a central topic of my 2003 book The Rule of Lawyers; as mentioned previously, when Dickie Scruggs routed mysterious and extremely large tobacco payments to P.L. Blake, he used attorney Langston as intermediary.
- Langston has repeatedly taken a high profile in the same fields of litigation as has Scruggs, including not only suits over asbestos, tobacco and welding rods but also two of Scruggs’s “signature” campaigns, those against HMOs/managed care companies and not-for-profit hospitals.
- Though the firm is better known for its plaintiff’s-side work, the Langston firm’s “national practice” page asserts: “The Langston Law Firm virtually defined the role of ‘Resolution Counsel’ in the modern era of jurisprudence. Prominent domestic and foreign companies facing massive litigation have turned to The Langston Law Firm to create winning strategies to save their companies.”
Many commenters (as at David Rossmiller’s) have noted that Langston appears to have drawn an unusually favorable plea deal from federal investigators, who are granting him remarkably broad immunity as to uncharged offenses, and not even stipulating that he give up all ill-gotten funds. Presumably this signals that they expect Langston’s cooperation to be unusually extensive and valuable. One hopes that this cooperation will include the full and frank disclosure of any earlier corruption and misconduct there may have been in all the past litigation in which Langston has been involved. In particular, tobacco, asbestos, and pharmaceutical litigation have all raised suspicions in the past because of instances in which forum-shopping lawyers took lawsuits of national significance to relatively obscure local courts — quite often in Mississippi — and proceeded to get unusually favorable results which paved the way for the changing hands of very large sums in settlement nationally. Were all these results achieved honestly?
Incidentally, and because it may confuse those researching the matter on the web, it should be noted that there is a second prominent Mississippi plaintiff’s lawyer who bears the same surname but has not been involved in the recent Scruggs scandals, that being Joey’s brother Shane Langston, formerly of Jackson-based Langston, Sweet & Freese. Shane Langston, whose name turned up often in connection with the “hot spots” of pharmaceutical litigation of Southwest Mississippi, has more recently been in the news over client complaints regarding alleged mishandling of expenses related to the Kentucky fen-phen litigation scandals. [Family relationship between the two confirmed 1/16 on the strength of emails from several readers.] (& welcome WSJ Law Blog readers)
[First of a two-part post. The second part is here.]
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.
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.