To the People

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Monday, March 17, 2008

We'll See If He Hangs On To His Nickname In Prison

Eliot Spitzer may be grabbing all of the headlines these days, but he's not the only douchebag lawyer who is getting his richly deserved comeuppance. It looks like the "King of Torts" is heading to the slammer. The AP reports:

JACKSON, Miss. - Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, the legendary trial lawyer who made Big Business tremble every time he set foot in court, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to bribe a judge — a crime that could send him to prison and spell the end of his storied legal career.

Federal prosecutors are asking for the maximum of five years behind bars for the 61-year-old Scruggs, the multimillionaire "King of Torts" who combined a shrewd legal mind and aw-shucks country-lawyer charm to extract billions of dollars from the tobacco and asbestos industries, among others.

He will also lose his license to practice law.

Scruggs and another lawyer in his firm, Sidney Backstrom, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud for offering a $50,000 cash bribe to a Mississippi judge for a favorable ruling in a dispute over legal fees from a Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuit.

Scruggs was one of the key figures behind the shakedowns of the tobacco industry in the 1990s. Granted the suits who ran those companies were douchebags too, blatantly lying about whether tobacco was addictive. Not that this should have mattered. It is common knowledge that smoking is addictive.

In any event it was all a pretext for a massive extortion effort by Scruggs, his fellow tort lawyers and state attorneys general. In the end it worked, forcing the tobbaco companies to cough up a staggering $206 billion nationwide settlement. Legal expert Walter Olson noted:
"The deal, which followed settlements with four other states totaling $40 billion, has been called the biggest privately handled redistribution of wealth in world history."

The lawyers, including Scruggs, made out like bandits. As the ABA journal reports: "The case made him one of America’s richest lawyers, with a cash flow many Wall Street firms would envy. Every three months since the late 1990s, Scruggs’ firm has received more than $10 million from the tobacco litigation payout. The case will fatten his bottom line by $42 million every 12 months for 23 years."

The rest of the money was supposed to be for education and other worthwhile programs. (The states actually blew it on other stuff, but never mind ...)

Scruggs even got to be a big screen hero when Hollywood came a-calling. In the 1999 film version of the story, "The Insider," starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, Scruggs was a featured part in the film.

Ah, but Ol' Dickie just couldn't quit while he was ahead. After Katrina in 2005, Scruggs went to work suing the insurance companies on behalf of homeowners whose claims were denied. Then he finally pushed it too far. Back to the AP:

Scruggs was indicted along with his son and three associates in November.

They were accused of conspiring to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey, who was overseeing a dispute between Scruggs and other lawyers over $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of Katrina cases. Lackey reported the bribe overture to the FBI and worked undercover.

Two of the men indicted, lawyer Timothy Balducci and former Mississippi State Auditor Steve Patterson, pleaded guilty and began working with the prosecution.

Balducci admitted to the FBI that he paid the judge $50,000 in cash and said he did so at the behest of the Scruggses and Backstrom. Balducci also wore a wire and recorded incriminating statements from Scruggs.

Ah, it's good to see bad things happen to sleazy people.