Thursday, 29 November 2007

C-L: seemingly random "Oxford lawyer indicted"

Ole Miss booster and multi-millionaire class-action lawyer Dickie Scruggs and a number of his associates were indicted yesterday on federal charges stemming from allegations Scruggs attempted to bribe a Lafayette County judge into steering additional attorney’s fees his way in an insurance lawsuit. Scruggs in recent years has set himself up as an unofficial and unelected fourth branch of Mississippi government, using the court system to both influence public policy and enrich his firm with contingency work for the state attorney general’s office, as the C-L story indicates:

Scruggs, the brother-in-law of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, is best known for his handling of mass litigation on behalf of the state of Mississippi, first involving asbestos and later involving tobacco.

His success in winning Mississippi’s landmark tobacco settlement led to his portrayal in the film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.

Then-Attorney General Mike Moore, who portrayed himself in the movie, hired Scruggs to handle the litigation on the state’s behalf – a move later criticized by some because Scruggs and other lawyers received millions in legal fees.

More recently, Scruggs has handled litigation against State Farm Insurance Co. over its handling of Katrina claims.

C-L columnist Sid Salter further explains how this scandal might affect the future careers of both Lott and Moore, Lott’s presumed heir apparent:

Exactly how does one divorce Dickie Scruggs’ historical status as Mike Moore’s largest campaign contributor and Moore’s award of the state’s lucrative tobacco litigation to Scruggs from a discussion of Mike Moore’s political future? It’s the same as ignoring the fact that Scruggs is Trent Lott’s brother-in-law.

Scruggs decided to make himself a major player in Mississippi politics by making huge campaign contributions, loans to candidates, starting and funding PACs to take down candidates he didn’t like and to keep trial lawyer-friendly candidates in power in the state House.

Nothing wrong with that. The business and medical community do the same thing and take their lumps for it. But it is what it is.

The next sob story will be that Dickie’s indictment is about Bush administration persecution of trial lawyers and a rehash of Paul Minor’s problems.