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Criminal Justice

Katrina Lawyer Richard ‘Dickie’ Scruggs Indicted in Judge Bribery Plot

Posted Nov 29, 2007 6:42 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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High-profile plaintiffs lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs has been charged with conspiring to pay a Mississippi judge $50,000 to resolve a fee dispute in favor of his law firm.

Scruggs is well-known for handling tobacco litigation for the state of Mississippi and more recently for suing State Farm on behalf of Hurricane Katrina victims. He is the brother-in-law of outgoing Sen. Trent Lott.

[More on the withdrawal of the Scruggs Law Firm from Katrina-related litigation, here.

The federal indictment (PDF posted by the Huffington Post) quotes from apparently tape-recorded conversations between another indicted lawyer and Judge Henry Lackey, who reported the alleged bribe offer and cooperated with authorities, the New York Times reports.

The lawyer, Timothy Balducci, is a partner with Patterson & Balducci in New Albany, Miss.

Also indicted were former state auditor Steven Patterson, who works with Balducci; Scruggs’ son, Zach Scruggs, a lawyer in the Scruggs Law Firm in Oxford, Miss.; and Sidney Backstrom, also a lawyer in Scruggs' firm, the Associated Press reports.

Joey Langston, a lawyer for Scruggs' firm, told AP, "I'm convinced that these guys did not do what they're accused of doing."

All are charged with charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, converting property and wire fraud, the Clarion Ledger reports.

The fee dispute involved a suit by another law firm for $26.5 million for Katrina work. The indictment claims Balducci made the bribe offer and delivered at least part of it, while Scruggs’ firm created false documents showing Balducci would receive money for jury consulting work.

The indictment quotes a phone conversation in which Balducci tells the judge, “The only person in the world outside of me and you that has discussed this is me and Dick. … 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.”

However, the indictment says Balducci discussed the alleged bribe with other indicted defendants.

Dickie Scruggs was released on $100,000 bail, while Zach Scruggs and Patterson each were released on $50,000 bail.

Updated 11:30 a.m. CST to correct details of the allegations.

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