Years of battles with other lawyers over fees might finally have caught up with Mississippi's Richard "Dickie" Scruggs.
Nelson D. Schwartz, of the The New York Times, reports that Scruggs has had fee disputes with other lawyers for years. And Scruggs' hard-nosed approach to such transactions might have led to his recent indictment for attempting to bribe a judge who was overseeing a lawsuit based on a fee dispute. These are tough times for the attorney known as "the King of Torts."
Charles M. Merkel Jr., a Clarksdale, MS, lawyer who has spent more than a decade battling Scruggs in two fee disputes, says he is not surprised by Scruggs' current problems.
"It's scorched earth with Dickie Scruggs," says Merkel, who represented Alwyn Luckey, an attorney who claimed Scruggs shortchanged him for work performed on asbestos cases. "As far as whether he's guilty, I can't say. But I'm not surprised because he's willing to use any means to an end. And it irks the hell out of me when Scruggs skates on the edge and makes the profession look bad."
Scruggs' current woes grew out of a disagreement with Jackson, MS, lawyer John Griffin Jones, who had worked with him against State Farm Insurance after Hurricane Katrina. Jones sued in state court, saying he was cheated out of his fair share of a $26.5 million settlement. The indictment for Scruggs and four other men came after they allegedly attempted to bribe Judge Henry L. Lackey, who was overseeing the Jones suit.
Scruggs is the brother-in-law of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) and has given to some Republican candidates. But the majority of his donations evidently have gone to Democrats. Some observers say his indictment could hurt Democrats and give Republicans ammunition to fire in the battle over tort reform.
Grady Tollison, who represents Jones in the lawsuit against Scruggs, says he sees a troubling pattern of behavior with Scruggs. "He's had a consistent pattern of violating his fiduciary duties to his partners in these legal ventures," Tollison says. "I know the lawyers in Oxford, Tupelo, and Clarksdale, and most everybody is very congenial. But Dickie's had difficulties with lawyers and fees in the past."
We will follow the Scruggs case closely here at Legal Schnauzer. At one time, Scruggs and Paul Minor probably were the two most successful trial lawyers in Mississippi. Both won major cases against the tobacco and asbestos industries, and Minor used his financial resources to support Democratic candidates exclusively.
Minor currently is in federal prison on a corruption conviction that appears to have been politically motivated. In fact, we have written a lengthy series of posts showing that Minor and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield were wrongly convicted, largely because of unlawful actions by Federal Judge Henry Wingate, a Republican appointee.
Here is something to watch for: Minor, Teel, and Whitfield were convicted even though no evidence was presented to show that their was any agreement, a quid pro quo, between them. We have shown that they were convicted because Wingate made unlawful rulings regarding expert defense witnesses and gave improper jury instructions on bribery and honest services mail fraud charges.
In the Scruggs case, early news reports indicate there is tape recorded evidence of an attempt to make a quid pro quo with Judge Lackey. If so, that is a true bribery case, and things won't look good for Scruggs.
But this question remains: How in the world did Minor and Co. get convicted without any evidence of a quid pro quo? The answer rests with Federal Judge Henry Wingate. And somebody in law enforcement needs to take a close look at his activities in the Minor case.