Legal Ethics

Judge: Scruggs in Criminal Contempt

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A federal judge in Alabama is asking the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute a high-profile trial lawyer for criminal contempt, contending that Richard Scruggs brazenly violated a court injunction by sharing documents concerning Hurricane Katrina-related insurance claims with the Mississippi attorney general.

In an order, Dist. Judge William Acker asks the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama to prosecute both Scruggs and his law firm, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At issue in the alleged contempt situation is Scruggs’ representation of two sisters who formerly worked for a company that processed Katrina claims for State Farm Insurance Co., the Journal article explains. The two took copies of documents they believed showed State Farm misconduct concerning policyholders, according to court filings, gave them to Scruggs, and Scruggs then gave them to the Mississippi attorney general–who was, like Scruggs, pursuing Katrina claims against the insurer on behalf of policyholders.

Meanwhile, the sisters’ employer sued, claiming they had improperly taken the documents, and Acker issued a preliminary injunction ordering that the documents be returned to the employer’s lawyer. It is this order that he accuses Scruggs of having violated. The trial attorney, however, says otherwise: “The injunction was not violated despite the judge’s order,” he tells the Journal. “I’m willing to accept the consequences and I’m going to resist it vigorously.”

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