Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy is being accused of hiding millions of dollars related to a $2.87-billion civil judgment against him in 2009. Scrushy, however, denied any wrongdoing and said he welcomes discovery efforts by opposing counsel in the matter, according to a report at al.com.
The story hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer for several reasons:
(1) It conjures up my longstanding concerns about whether justice was done in the Scrushy civil case;
(2) The case was conducted as a bench trial (both sides apparently agreed to that arrangement), meaning there was no jury, and a solo judge -- the late Allwin E. Horn, was the lone decision maker;
(3) I had the unpleasant experience of seeing Horn operate up close in a separate matter, and I was extremely unimpressed.
(4) For reasons I don't remember, Horn summoned me to his office, so I sat just a few feet away, on the other side of his desk. Best I could tell, Horn wanted to see me so that he could let me know he had made up his mind on the matter at hand, and there was nothing I could do to change his position. He impressed me as a man who cared little about the law and facts, but got a sick charge out of flouting his authority and playing with people.
(5) From viewing him up close, I got the sense that Horn wasn't "altogether there." If my memory is correct, this was shortly before his retirement in 2009, and Horn seemed like a man whose brain circuitry was not functioning at full capacity. I remember thinking, "This guy has no business overseeing any complex legal matter," and the Scrushy case certainly fit that description. Horn died in September 2019 at age 75.
(6) On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court mostly deferred to the trial court, so it is unclear if Horn's ruling ever was reviewed in any serious or objective way. The Supreme Court's ruling can be summarized as "This is what the the trial court decided, it knows the case more intimately than we do, so we aren't going to disturb it in any way."
As for the latest issue in the Scrushy civil matter, al.com's William Thornton reports:
Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and others have been ordered to turn over records and documents related to a bank account, which lawyers say Scrushy was using to hide millions.
In a seven-page order filed Tuesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court, John England Jr., acting as special master in the case, also issued an injunction against any money being transferred out of the account in question.
Opposing counsel's argument centers around Scrushy's relationship with a man named Eddie Briskett. Writes al.com's Thornton:
In 2007 Scrushy was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. While serving his sentence in a Texas prison, a civil court found him liable for the HeathSouth fraud.
He was ordered to pay $2.87 billion in damages. After serving about five years of his sentence, Scrushy was released from prison. He currently lives in Texas and is representing himself in the court action.
According to England’s order, Scrushy contends he is unemployed and has no assets other than Social Security. However, lawyers for the plaintiffs who are owed damages say Scrushy is conducting business through other entities owned by friends and family.
Plaintiff lawyers say Scrushy controls a bank account in the name of Eddie Briskett, a man currently serving time in the Alabama Department of Corrections for various convictions, including property theft, burglary, assault, and intimidating a witness, according to the ADOC website.
According to the ruling, Scrushy has “exchanged thousands of text messages” with a number associated with Briskett, and written checks totaling $7.3 million on the account, including two checks to himself totaling $3 million.
However. those checks were never deposited in any account previously disclosed by Scrushy, the order states.
In addition, England mentioned a 2020 letter to the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles by an associate of Scrushy, explaining that Briskett has an investment portfolio of about $7.1 million.
“The evidence presented suggests that Mr. Scrushy may have an interest in the account or in some or all of the proceeds of the account,” the order reads. “At minimum, it appears that Mr. Scrushy, or someone acting in concert with him, opened the account in Briskett’s name and that Mr. Scrushy has control of the account.”
Scrushy contends the evidence does not amount to much. Reports Thornton:
Scrushy, speaking by phone, said he has known Briskett for 20 years through his prison ministry and has exchanged text messages with Briskett’s sister, mainly to set up telephone conversations.
The checks, he said, were “kind of a joke” between the two of them.
“He’s one of the gentlemen that I’ve been helping, being a friend and minister,” he said. “I’ve never signed on any bank account of his. There’s zero truth to any of that. I’ve never been involved with Eddie Briskett on any account, period. I’ve never taken a dime from Eddie Briskett.”
Scrushy said the court filings in the case are a continued harassment to him and his family.
“I’ve never seen such abuse and waste in my life,” he said. “I told the judge yesterday to let those attorneys go and discover anything they want. There is nothing to it.”
This all comes back to Judge Allwin Horn, the one-man overseer of the Scrushy civil case. I have written extensively about that matter -- and about my personal experience with Horn, which left me extremely unimpressed with him as an individual and concerned that he might not have the mental acuity to handle any complex legal case, not to mention such a high-profile matter as the Scrushy civil case.
Should the public have confidence that Horn got it right in the Scrushy case -- or in any matter from that general time frame, 2006-2010? We will examine that question in an upcoming post.
Coming in Part Two: Donald Watkins tells us how efforts to collect the Scrushy judgment turned into a $100-million gravy train for the Bradley Arant law firm.