Richard “Dickie” Scruggs has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe a judge — a plea that will likely send him to jail and certainly end his controversial but storied career of the “King of Torts.” While another lawyer from his firm also pleaded guilty, his son Zach is still scheduled to go to trial.
Scruggs made millions in pursuing major companies and industries like the tobacco industry. He pleaded guilty with another lawyer from his firm, Sidney Backstrom, in a case involving a $50,000 cash bribe for a Mississippi judge. The bribe was allegedly made to force a favorable ruling over fees in an insurance lawsuit.
Scruggs and four others, including his son and law partner Zach, were indicted Nov. 28, 2007 on charges they conspired to bribe a judge over disputed legal fees that amounted to $26.5 million. Jones, Funderburg, Sessums, Peterson & Lee sued Mr. Scruggs for withholding money that it claimed was owed to for work on Hurricane Katrina insurance-related cases as part of the Scruggs Katrina Group.
The indictment alleged that an attorney named Timothy Balducci served as the go-between for the deal. Balducci allegedly paid Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey $40,000 for a favorable ruling. Balducci was reimbursed by Scruggs.
In one exchange with the judge, Balducci says: “We, uh, like I say, it ain’t but three people in the world that know anything about this … and two of them are sitting here and the other one … the other one, uh, being Scruggs … he and I, um, how shall I say, for over the last five or six years there, there are bodies buried that, that you know, that he and I know where … where are, and, and, my, my trust in his, mine in him and his in mine, in me, I am sure are the same.”
After the payment, Judge Lackey issued a favorable order, according to the indictment.
Scruggs was pretty much finished when Balducci pleaded guilty on Dec. 4 to conspiracy in the bribery case without the standard cooperation agreement.
Scruggs has long been controversial due to the sweetheart deal that he struck on the tobacco litigation. He was given a contract from then former Attorney General Mike Moore. Scruggs was a friend of Moore and gave him a type of contingency arrangement — a terrible deal for the state that led to Scruggs demanding a reported $848 million.
Scruggs is a lively character and something of a legend in his area. He is a former fighter pilot who grew up dirt poor and seems to have made up for it considerably. When Time Magazine asked Scruggs about his upbringing, he explained that “We were so poor that if I hadn’t been a boy, I wouldn’t have had anything to play with.” He now makes up for the early absence of toys with a 120-ft. motor yacht and $300,000 Bentley convertible — among other distractions.
For a copy of the indictment, click here.
With the guilty plea, Scruggs’ license will be revoked. Under Mississippi rules, a disbarred attorney cannot seek reinstatement.
For full story, click here