Legal Ethics

Richard Scruggs Wins Venue Change in Contempt Case

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A renowned Mississippi personal injury lawyer defending a criminal contempt case after allegedly defying the instructions of an Alabama federal judge to turn over insurance company documents has scored an apparent victory in a wide-ranging ongoing court battle related to insurance coverage for Hurricane Katrina.

Federal district court judges in northern Alabama, after conferring together, have decided that it’s best for a judge in another venue to hear the contempt case, according to Bloomberg. So the contempt case against Richard Scruggs, who reportedly incurred ajudge’s wrath by turning over to the Mississippi attorney general internal State Farm insurance documents related to Hurricane Katrina insurance coverage claims, will now be sent to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta for reassignment.

“U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler in Birmingham said yesterday in a court order that it was reasonable to question the fairness of judges in the northern district, one of three federal jurisdictions in Alabama, given that the charges were lodged by a judge there, U.S. District Judge William Acker,” writes Bloomberg. However, Coogler himself wrote, this was to avoid any appearance of partiality rather than because local judges couldn’t fairly decide the contempt case. “The court is of the firm opinion that it could fairly and impartially preside over this case and decide the issues therein,” he said in yesterday’s opinion.

As discussed in earlier posts, the 11th Circuit held in August that 15,000 internal documents must be returned to State Farm. Meanwhile, another recent decision by a federal district judge also comes down on the insurer side of the Katrina dispute. Last week, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood was ordered to hold off on pursuing a criminal investigation of State Farm. The Nov. 8 ruling was made by U.S. District Judge David Bramlette, who sits in Mississippi, Bloomberg notes in another article today.

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