Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mississippi's Really Churning Now

A huge story is brewing in Mississippi, with the indictment of high-profile attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs and four other attorneys on bribery charges. The Scruggs case has possible connections to a number of issues we've spotlighted here at Legal Schnauzer.

Scruggs and the other defendants are charged with conspiring to bribe Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey in exchange for a favorable ruling in a lawsuit involving legal fees in the representation of Hurricane Katrina victims.

The alleged conspiracy began in March 2007, and Lackey immediately reported the alleged bribery overture to federal authorities and then assisted with the FBI investigation. Evidence against the defendants includes computer e-mails, and the indictment includes excerpts from telephone conversations that evidently were recorded by federal authorities.

At issue in the lawsuit were $28 million in attorney fees from a mass settlement of State Farm policyholders' claims. A Jackson, MS, firm had sued Scruggs, alleging he was withholding money it was owed for work on the Katrina litigation.

The Scruggs indictment raises all kinds of interesting questions. Here are a few that come to mind:

* What, if anything, does this mean for the Paul Minor case, which we've covered extensively here at Legal Schnauzer? Minor and Scruggs were probably the two most successful trial attorneys in Mississippi. Minor was a major supporter of Democratic candidates and (along with two judges) was convicted on corruption charges earlier this year. Scruggs evidently gave to both Democrats and Republicans, and his brother-in-law is U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS). He was investigated in the Minor case, but avoided an indictment then. We have shown that Minor and judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were wrongly convicted in a case that is being investigated by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. According to news reports, no written or audio evidence--and no oral testimony--indicated there was any bribery agreement in the Minor case. And since the judges' rulings in the underlying lawsuits were correct under the law, there could be no quid pro quo or corrupt intent as required under the law. Apparently, the Scruggs case does involve strong evidence of an agreement and a quid pro quo. Based on what I see at this early juncture, the charges in the two cases look remarkably similar, but the facts are very different. The Scruggs case appears to involve a legit bribery charge. It appears to be starkly different from the Minor case--and for that matter, the Don Siegelman case in Alabama.

* Did the brewing Scruggs indictment have anything to do with Trent Lott's announcement this week that he will resign with almost six full years left on his term in the Senate?

* Could the FBI investigation in the Scruggs case have turned up evidence that Lott pushed the feds toward Minor and away from Scruggs the first time around?

* Is new Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey having a positive impact, actually bringing a sense of justice to the U.S. Justice Department?

* Is the work of honest attorneys such as Scott Horton, Jill Simpson, and Paul Benton Weeks related to the Don Siegelman case having a positive cumulative effect? Have they helped set a ball in motion that is beginning to steamroll toward justice--and toward big trouble for folks who have been abusing our justice system in recent years?

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