Update: Things get smellier and smellier. Scruggs indicted for bribing judge! It’s related to the Katrina revenge lawsuits spearheaded by retiring Sen. Lott:
Richard F. Scruggs, a prominent trial lawyer who has been fighting insurance companies over payments for damage from Hurricane Katrina, was indicted yesterday by federal authorities on charges of offering a bribe of $50,000 to a Mississippi state judge in a dispute over fees with another lawyer.
The indictment, filed in federal court in Oxford, Miss., Mr. Scruggs’s hometown, said that on behalf of Mr. Scruggs, a colleague met several times this year with State Judge Henry L. Lackey in his chambers in Calhoun County to propose and deliver the bribe in installments.
Mr. Scruggs’s son Zachary, who is a partner in the Scruggs Law Firm in Oxford, and Sidney A. Backstrom, another partner, were also indicted, as were Mr. Scruggs’s colleague, Timothy R. Balducci, a partner in the firm of Patterson & Balducci, and Steven A. Patterson, a staff member in the firm. Mr. Scruggs, his son and the others were all accused of conspiracy.
The indictment, signed by Jim M. Greenlee, a United States attorney, said Judge Lackey reported an attempt to bribe him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and cooperated with investigators as payments were made.
The indictment quoted from a conversation apparently tape-recorded in Judge Lackey’s chambers and from a phone conversation in which Mr. Balducci told a member of his firm, “All is done, all is handled and all went well.”
According to the indictment, Mr. Balducci had the phone conversation on Sept. 27 after handing over $20,000 in cash to Judge Lackey in his chambers. Immediately after meeting with the judge, the indictment said, Mr. Balducci went to the Scruggs Law Firm. The indictment also cited a phone conversation on Sept. 21 in which it said Mr. Balducci discussed the bribery transaction with Mr. Backstrom.
The Biloxi Sun-Herald has more.
The FBI searched the law offices of notorious plaintiffs’ attorney and tobacco shakedown artist Dickie Scruggs yesterday. He’s the brother-in-law of retiring Sen. Trent Lott. (Hat tip 0 Y’all Politics). What’s going on? Lott’s office says his resignation and the crackdown on Scruggs are mere “coincidence.” A lot of local political observers/bloggers seem to think otherwise.
The Insurance Coverage blog is all over the news. There’s background from David Rossmiller on a False Claims Act whistleblower lawsuit brought against Scruggs. He stands accused of “serious ethical improprieties” relating to Hurricane Katrina litigation against State Farm insurance. The charges involve use of stolen documents and direct communication with representatives of the opposing party.
There’s also a federal criminal contempt trial against Scruggs in Alabama. Here are Rossmiller’s observations:
The big news from yesterday, of course, was the FBI’s search of Dickie Scruggs’ law offices, and it remains today’s big news. This AP story said at least seven FBI agents and federal prosecutors searched the offices. This AP story in the Clarion Ledger said they began searching about 10:30 a.m. and were still there at 3 p.m. — they could have stayed longer, for all I know, but that is apparently about the time the story had to move across the wire.
What were they looking for? I don’t know, and no one else appears to know either, at least anyone outside the FBI and prosecutors, and they aren’t saying. Seldom have I had so many e-mails in an afternoon from readers, and usually some one is able to tell me some inside dope, but not in this instance. So if you know the good stuff, don’t be shy about letting me know.
One thing I noted in the media accounts I read was that Scruggs’ big time San Francisco criminal defense lawyer, John Keker, was not speaking for Scruggs on this matter. Keker, as you recall, is defending Scruggs against a charge of criminal contempt of court instigated by federal Judge William Acker relating to the Renfroe v. Rigsby document case in Alabama. This is smart — whether the search is related to that prosecution or not, why create the link in people’s minds? Instead of Keker, Mississippi trial attorney Joey Langston spoke for Scruggs. The story in the Clarion Ledger said that Langston is “representing the Scruggs firm but is not an employee there.” Ironically, the big Sun Herald story from yesterday, which contained extensive quotes from Langston, didn’t say anything about who he is.
Langston, according to his firm’s website, specializes in criminal defense, wrongful death and personal injury cases. According to this press release by Mississippians for Economic Progress, a group that opposed AG Jim Hood’s re-election, Langston, like Scruggs, is a big campaign contributor to Hood…
So, what’s the FBI looking for?
Langston told The Associated Press that the agents were looking for a single document that “might be ancillary to something pertaining to Katrina litigation,” but is not directly involved in any of those cases.