Richard Scruggs

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Richard Scruggs
RIchard Scruggs, 2015.jpg
Born Brookhaven, Mississippi
Education University of Mississippi
Occupation Former attorney, philanthropist
Known for Class action action lawsuits against the asbestos, tobacco and insurance industries
Spouse(s) Diane Thompson

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] He also represented hundreds of homeowners in lawsuits against insurance companies following Hurricane Katrina,[2] and a national class action of patients against HMOs in the early 2000s.[3]

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.[4][5] Kings of Tort, by Alan Lange and Tom Dawson, released in 2009, documents the rise and fall of Scruggs.[6] 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.[7]

Scruggs legal career was derailed by his indictment in a judicial bribery scheme on November, 2007. Scruggs' motion to dismiss the indictment was denied, and he pleaded guilty of conspiracy to bribe Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey.[8] He also entered a 2009 guilty plea for a scheme to influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter.[9] He served six years in federal prison and was released in 2014.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Scruggs was born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, on May 17, 1946, but grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi.[1] He told Time that his father left the family when Scruggs was five years old. Scruggs was then raised by his mother, Helen, who worked as a legal secretary at the Ingalls shipyard. She was also an alumnus of Millsaps College.[11] 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.[12]

Scruggs lived in a five-million-dollar mansion in Oxford, Mississippi.[13] In 2003, he bought the upper floor of a building on Courthouse Square in Oxford in which he housed the Scruggs Law Firm.[13] 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.[14]

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[15] following Scruggs guilty plea to bribery in March 2007. The building is now called "The Music Building".

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.[16][17] He taught non-violent offenders, many who were imprisoned on drug charges, helping them to acquire their GEDs and nearly 60 students under his tutelage graduated.[18][19] In August 2015, Scruggs plans to climb Mount Olympus in Washington in order to raise awareness for adults struggling to get their GED. Scruggs is also partnering with the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program (MIBEST), which provides a remedial education and marketable skills to students seeking a GED.[20]

Richard Scruggs during his service as a U.S. Naval aviator.

Education and military career[edit]

Scruggs was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon as an undergraduate at the University of Mississippi. Upon graduation and commissioning as a Naval officer, Scruggs entered flight training and earned his wings as a fighter pilot in 1970. Scruggs was assigned to an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea during the. Arab-Israeli conflict of October 1973, where he was stationed aboard the carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt during the nuclear alert triggered by the Soviet threat to intervene in the Arab-Israeli War.[11]

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][21]

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.[22][23] He also reportedly contributed to Tom Daschle, Susan Collins, and Harry Reid.[24]

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.[13] However, that fundraiser was canceled after Scruggs' indictment.[13]

In the months following Scruggs' indictment, both the McCain and Biden campaigns returned his contributions.[22]

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.[21]

Asbestos litigation[edit]

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][21] He encountered his first client in 1984 when he was approached by a shipyard worker looking for help with a lung disease. Scruggs paid for the client's medical tests which revealed the medical ailment to be asbestosis. Scruggs took on 4200 direct clients and served as co-counsel to another 6000.[3]

Tobacco litigation[edit]

In the 1990s, Scruggs was hired by Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore to assist with a lawsuit against thirteen tobacco companies for state-borne health care costs. Scruggs and his colleagues brought a concerted action, representing several states, which resulted in a settlement of over $248 billion.[25] His performance in this case was portrayed by actor Colm Feore in the movie The Insider.[26] Scruggs himself, as well as his second house in Pascagoula, Mississippi, also appeared in the film.[2]

In total Scruggs' firm Scruggs, Millette, Bozeman and Dent earned about $900 million in legal fees from the judgments, with about one third going to Scruggs.[3][25][27] The total in fees Scruggs received resulted in public controversy regarding the amount that lawyers are allowed to take from large settlements. Scruggs stated that his firm held a reserve to help challenge future cases and cover costs, allowing additional financial leverage in addressing the legal infractions of major corporations.[3]

Ritalin lawsuits/medical care litigation[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."[28] Following a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court stating that HMOs could be sued, as opposed to only doctors, Scruggs led a new set of lawsuits against American HMOs.[29] In June 2004 Scruggs also led a lawsuit against 13 non-profit hospital groups, alleging they hoarded funds gained from tax breaks while dispensing inadequate care.[30] 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;[31][32][33] however, Scruggs eventually dropped the Lott case following his indictment and disqualification.[33]

Other litigation[edit]

In 2003, Scruggs tried and won a national class action against Lehman Brothers, with a verdict of $51 million for financing a predatory lending scheme.[34]

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][2][24][35] Lackey solicited a bribe of $40,000 through a third party, which he described as a payment he needed to get “over a hump.”[24] Lackey reported the attempted bribe he solicited, and cooperated with the investigation.[2] Scruggs pleaded guilty in Federal Court on March 14, 2008.[36] On June 26, 2008, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the bribery charge.[37]

In a separate federal indictment, Scruggs was accused of attempting to improperly influence Mississippi judge Bobby DeLaughter.[38] 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. Scruggs was sentenced to a seven-year term to run concurrently with the five-year sentence, adding two years to the total (the maximum penalty was 20 years/$250,000 fine).[39] 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.”[40] The conviction also resulted in Scruggs Hall, which housed the Music department of the University of Mississippi, to be renamed "The Music Building".[41]

In December 2012, a federal judge granted Scruggs' motion to be released from prison on bail pending his appeal of the 2009 conviction.[18] The appeal was unsuccessful and Scruggs returned to jail in May 2013 to complete his sentence.[42] Scruggs was released from jail and placed under house arrest in March 2014. His sentence was completed in September 2014.[43] He was returned to prison in April 2013 after his appeal was rejected. On March 20, 2014 Scruggs was released from prison to home confinement, to remain there until his release date of September 14, 2014.[43]

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 h Treaster, Joseph (2007-11-29). "Lawyer Battling for Katrina Payments Is Indicted". New York Times (The New York Times). pp. C2. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Who's Afraid Of Dickie Scruggs?". Newsweek. December 5, 1999. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  4. ^ Pettus, Emily (2007-11-30). "Miss Attorney Pleads in Bribery Case". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-03-14. [dead link]
  5. ^ "Disgraced lawyer Scruggs granted return to prison". Associated Press. April 17, 2013. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  6. ^ Lange, Alan et al. (2009). Kings of Tort. Pediment Publishing. p. 255. ISBN 1-59725-244-1. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Biggers, Neal (August 3, 2011). FDCO 20110804C16/U.S. v. SCRUGGS "U.S. v. SCRUGGS". Leagle. Retrieved July 23, 2015. 
  9. ^ Brumfield, Patsy (April 29, 2013). "Dick Scruggs, headed back to prison, says he’s found new life". djournal.com. Retrieved July 23, 2015. 
  10. ^ Kulo, Warren (March 24, 2014). "Infamous attorney Richard 'Dickie' Scruggs released from federal prison, on house arrest until Sept. 14". GulfLive.com. Retrieved July 23, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Goodgame, Dan (July 9, 2000). "Richard ("Dickie") Scruggs". Time. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  12. ^ Mollenkamp, Carrick et al. (1998). The people vs. big tobacco. Bloomberg Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 1-57660-057-2. 
  13. ^ a b c d Kunzelman, Michael (2008-03-14). "Mississippi Lawyer Accused of Bribe Attempt". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-12-02. [dead link]
  14. ^ Quinn, Paul (February 14, 2010). "Bob Wilson Moves into Scruggs’ Square Office". Oxford Enterprise. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  15. ^ Jarvie, Jennie (June 28, 2008). "For a legal legend, a stiff dose of justice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  16. ^ Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator for Richard F. Scruggs, retrieved 2009-8-3.
  17. ^ Slater, Dan (January 27, 2009). "A Law Blog Q&A With John Grisham". The Wall Street Journal. 
  18. ^ a b "Richard "Dickie" Scruggs to be released on bail". Oxford Eagle. December 11, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  19. ^ Le Coz, Emily (April 26, 2015). "Dickie Scruggs: A 2nd chance". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  20. ^ Le Coz, Emily (April 25, 2015). "Scruggs to raise funds for adult ed". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  21. ^ a b c Treaster, Joseph B. (March 16, 2007). "A Lawyer Like a Hurricane". New York Times (The New York Times). Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  22. ^ a b "CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION SEARCH, Scruggs, Richard". Newsmeat. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  23. ^ Federal Election Committee Contribution Receipt http://herndon1.sdrdc.com/cgi-bin/fecimg/?27990286979
  24. ^ a b c Boyer, Peter (May 19, 2008). "The Bribe" (PDF). The New Yorker. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 13, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  25. ^ a b Merzer, Martin (December 4, 1997). "Small Law Firms Present Big Bills for Florida Tobacco Lawsuit". Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  26. ^ Full cast and crew for The Insider (1999), IMDB, retrieved 2007-12-7
  27. ^ Dando, Mary (February 8, 2011). "Smoke, guns and class action suits". Memphis Daily News. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  28. ^ Schmitt, Richard (September 14, 2000). "Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against Novartis, APA and CHADD". The Wall Street Journal. 
  29. ^ Greising, Davis (October 3, 1999). "Hmos' Practices Cause Outbreak Of Ill Will". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  30. ^ Kaiser, Rob (June 18, 2004). "Class actions filed against non-profit hospitals". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  31. ^ Parloff, Roger (August 25, 2008). "Scruggs updates, Part I: Key witness will finally testify". Fortune. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  32. ^ Ziegler, Tom (October 5, 2005). "Insurers sued for fraud after Katrina". CNN/Money. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  33. ^ a b Parloff, Roger (April 10, 2008). "The siege of State Farm". Fortune. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  34. ^ Reckard, E. Scott (June 17, 2003). "Lehman Bros. Held Liable in Fraud Case". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 6, 2015. 
  35. ^ Olson, Walter (December 15, 2007). "Mississippi's Tort King: Dickie Scruggs's mistake may have been to stiff another lawyer". Opinion Jornal. Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  36. ^ Glater, Jonathan D. (March 15, 2008). "Prominent Trial Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Bribery". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  37. ^ Mohr, Holbrook (June 27, 2008). "Scruggs gets 5 years in prison in bribery scheme". USA Today. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  38. ^ Nossiter, Adam (February 14, 2009). "Civil Rights Hero, Now a Judge, is Indicted in a Bribery Case". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  39. ^ Lange, Alan (February 10, 2009). "Connecting the dots . . . “shortly". Y’All Politics. Archived from the original on October 7, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  40. ^ "Famed Litigator Pleads Guilty". Associated Press. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  41. ^ Jarvie, Jennie (June 28, 2008). "For a legal legend, a stiff dose of justice". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 11, 2012. 
  42. ^ Brumfield, Patsy (April 29, 2013). "Dick Scruggs, headed back to prison, says he’s found new life". Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Archived from the original on October 17, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  43. ^ a b Kulo, Warren (March 27, 2014). "Infamous attorney Richard 'Dickie' Scruggs released from federal prison, on house arrest until Sept. 14". Gulf Live. Archived from the original on October 11, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 

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