Richard Scruggs

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Richard F. "Dickie" Scruggs (born May 17, 1946) is an American former A6A naval aviator, a prominent trial lawyer, one of the richest men in Mississippi, and the brother-in-law of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Scruggs first came to the public eye after successfully suing the asbestos industry on behalf of ill shipyard workers. He later represented the state of Mississippi in the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.[1][2]

Scruggs was indicted for attempted bribery in 2007 and in 2009. He pleaded guilty in March 2008, and again in February 2009. Scruggs was sentenced to 5 years in prison on June 27, 2008 by U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers; and on February 10, 2009, Judge Glen H. Davidson sentenced him to 7 years for the second scheme, to run concurrently.[3][4] Kings of Tort, by Alan Lange and Tom Dawson, released in 2009, documents the rise and fall of Scruggs.[5] The Fall of the House of Zeus: The Rise and Ruin of America's Most Powerful Trial Lawyer, by veteran journalist Curtis Wilkie, was published in 2010.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Scruggs was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, on May 17, 1946, but grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi.[1] In 1971 he married Diane Thompson, a sister of Tricia Thompson Lott, wife of Trent Lott. The sisters are close, and their families often spent holidays together.[7]

Scruggs lived in a five-million-dollar mansion in Oxford, Mississippi.[8] In 2003, he bought the upper floor of a building on Courthouse Square in Oxford in which he housed the Scruggs Law Firm.[8] In 2010, this space was purchased by the firm of W. Roberts Wilson, Jr. following the 2009 settlement of Wilson's longstanding suit against Scruggs for fees resulting from asbestos cases in the 1980s.[9]

Scruggs brought a certain élan to Oxford, and politicians regularly came through on fund-raising quests, Joe Biden, Tom Daschle, Susan Collins, and Harry Reid, among them.[10]

Scruggs and his wife, Diane, were ardent supporters of the University of Mississippi, making large donations to several organizations on campus. Scruggs Hall, which currently houses the Music department, was named in their honor. The Scruggs name was removed from the building[11] following Scruggs guilty plea to bribery in March 2007. The building is now called "The Music Building".

Education[edit]

Scruggs was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon as an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi. He graduated from the University of Mississippi Law School in 1976, where he was a classmate of Mike Moore, a close friend who later became the Attorney General of Mississippi.[1][2][12]

Political activity[edit]

Scruggs has made monetary contributions to the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden and John McCain, the Senatorial campaigns of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Biden, and McCain, and to numerous other candidates from both major political parties.[13][14]

Scruggs was scheduled to host a fundraiser at his home for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, on December 15, 2007, to be attended by former President Bill Clinton.[8] However, that fundraiser was canceled after Scruggs' indictment.[8]

In the months following Scruggs' indictment, both the McCain and Biden campaigns returned his contributions.[13]

Legal career[edit]

Scruggs began his career with a prestigious law firm in Jackson, Mississippi, where he often defended insurance companies. Later he moved back to Pascagoula and opened his own office.[12]

One of his first big legal victories was in representing workers at the Pascagoula shipyard who became fatally ill as a result of exposure to asbestos fibers.[1][2]

Tobacco litigation[edit]

In the 1990s, Scruggs was hired by Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore to assist with a lawsuit against thirteen tobacco companies. Settlement of the state's case against the tobacco companies was for $248 billion. His performance in this case was portrayed by actor Colm Feore in the movie The Insider.[15] Scruggs himself, as well as his second house in Pascagoula, Mississippi, also appeared in the film.[2]

Ritalin lawsuits[edit]

A short time after the tobacco lawsuit, Scruggs led and became a spokesman for the plaintiffs in the Ritalin class action lawsuits. He asserted that the makers of Ritalin "manufactured a disease" and that Ritalin "has been grossly over-prescribed. It is a huge risk."[16] All five class actions in five states were dismissed before trial.

Katrina litigation[edit]

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Scruggs filed a number of lawsuits against insurance companies regarding payment on claims made for storm damage. One of his clients was his brother-in-law Senator Trent Lott,[1] former Majority Leader of the US Senate and Lott's wife, Tricia, in a lawsuit against State Farm Insurance. Numerous other clients and cases followed, most of which resulted in favorable settlements.[17]

Bribery and wire fraud[edit]

At the conclusion of one of those Katrina-related trials, a fee dispute arose between Scruggs and other plaintiff's attorneys involved in the case. That fee dispute resulted in a separate trial to determine how to apportion the fees. According to allegations that later surfaced in a criminal prosecution, Scruggs was involved in an attempt to bribe Mississippi Third Circuit Court Judge Henry L. Lackey with $40,000 in exchange for a favorable ruling in the fee dispute.[1][2][18][2][10][19]Lackey reported the attempted bribe and cooperated with the investigation.[2]

Scruggs pleaded guilty in Federal Court on March 14, 2008.[20][21] On June 26, 2008, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the bribery charge.[22]

In a separate federal indictment, Scruggs was accused of attempting to improperly influence Mississippi judge Bobby DeLaughter.[23] On February 10, 2009, Scruggs pleaded guilty in federal court in Aberdeen, Mississippi, to one count of that indictment charging mail fraud in the corruption of a public official. That count carried a maximum penalty of 20 years/$250,000 fine.[24] Scruggs was sentenced to a seven-year term to run concurrently with the five-year sentence, adding two years to the total. He was also fined $100,000. Judge Glen H. Davidson imposed his sentence and quoted the Scottish philosopher William Barclay: “The Romans had a proverb that money was like sea water. The more you drink the thirstier you become.”[25]

John Grisham reported that Scruggs, while serving his sentence in federal prison, worked to help inmates get GED certificates, and expressed astonishment at the low level of literacy among the inmates. Scruggs took long walks with other white-collar inmates.[26] [27]

In December 2012, a federal judge granted Scruggs' motion to be released from prison on bail pending his appeal of the 2009 conviction.[28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Fausset, Richard; Jarvie, Jenny (2007-11-30). "Katrina lawyer at the eye of a storm". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times). 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Treaster, Joseph (2007-11-29). "Lawyer Battling for Katrina Payments Is Indicted". New York Times (The New York Times). pp. C2. 
  3. ^ Pettus, Emily (2007-11-30). "Miss Attorney Pleads in Bribery Case". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-03-14. [dead link]
  4. ^ http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080627/ap_on_bi_ge/scruggs_sentence_35
  5. ^ Lange, Alan; et al (2009). Kings of Tort. Pediment Publishing. p. 255. ISBN 1-59725-244-1. 
  6. ^ Wilkie, Curtis (2010). The Fall of the House of Zeus: The Rise and Ruin of America's Most Powerful Trial Lawyer. Crown Publishers. p. 400. ISBN 978-0-307-46070-7. 
  7. ^ Mollenkamp, Carrick; et al (1998). The people vs. big tobacco. Bloomberg Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 1-57660-057-2. 
  8. ^ a b c d Kunzelman, Michael (2008-03-14). "Mississippi Lawyer Accused of Bribe Attempt". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-12-02. [dead link]
  9. ^ The Oxford Enterprise, 14 February 2010
  10. ^ a b The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/WSJ_Boyer_Scruggs_Fact080512.pdf |url= missing title (help). 
  11. ^ Jarvie, Jennie (June 28, 2008). "For a legal legend, a stiff dose of justice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Treaster, Joseph B. (March 16, 2007). "A Lawyer Like a Hurricane". New York Times (The New York Times). Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  13. ^ a b http://www.newsmeat.com/fec/bystate_detail.php?st=MS&last=Scruggs&first=Richard
  14. ^ Federal Election Committee Contribution Receipt http://herndon1.sdrdc.com/cgi-bin/fecimg/?27990286979
  15. ^ Full cast and crew for The Insider (1999), IMDB, retrieved 2007-12-7
  16. ^ Texans for Safe Education
  17. ^ http://www.insurancecoverageblog.com/Keker%20demand%20for%20retraction.pdf
  18. ^ http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/files/us_v_scruggs_indictment_nov_28_2007.pdf
  19. ^ http://opinionjournal.com/cc/?id=110011013
  20. ^ Glater, Jonathan D. (March 15, 2008). "Prominent Trial Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Bribery". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  21. ^ "Scruggs Plea Agreement". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  22. ^ Mohr, Holbrook (June 27, 2008). "Scruggs gets 5 years in prison in bribery scheme". USA Today. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  23. ^ Nossiter, Adam (February 14, 2009). "Civil Rights Hero, Now a Judge, is Indicted in a Bribery Case". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  24. ^ http://yallpolitics.com/index.php/yp/post/14411
  25. ^ "Famed Litigator Pleads Guilty". Associated Press. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  26. ^ Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator for Richard F. Scruggs, retrieved 2009-8-3.
  27. ^ Slater, Dan (January 27, 2009). "A Law Blog Q&A With John Grisham". The Wall Street Journal. 
  28. ^ {cite news|title=Richard "Dickie" Scruggs to be released on bail|url=http://oxfordeagle.com/2012/11/breaking-news-richard-dickie-scruggs-to-be-released-on-bail/%7Cdate=December 11, 2012|accessdate=December 11, 2012|publisher=Oxford Eagle|}

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