Justice For Sale: Scruggs and Backstrom Will Serve Jail Time - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Jackson, MS 03/14/2008

Justice For Sale: Scruggs and Backstrom Will Serve Jail Time

By: Marsha Thompson
      marsha@wlbt.net

He is known as the "king of torts" accustomed to "stare-downs" with big business, winning billion dollar settlements in and outside of the courtroom. Today trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs accepted a tough deal -- drawn up by prosecutors. Scruggs entered a surprise guilty plea in federal court in Oxford admitting he conspired to bribe a judge.

One of the wealthiest and politically connected trial lawyers in the nation is likely contemplating life behind bars for the next 5 years. Dickie Scruggs long and storied career has apparently come to an end. His law license will be revoked. 61 year old Scruggs pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to bribe a judge. Law partner Sidney Backstrom also threw in the towel, pleading guilty as well. He faces 2 and a half years behind bars.

It was a shrewd corruption scandal that turned into a house of cards. Attorney Timothy Balducci made overtures to Lafayette Judge Henry Lackey...50 thousand dollars to rule in Scruggs favor...at issue 26 million dollars in Katrina legal fees to be divided among lawyers. The government wired the Judge, then agents busted Balducci after he deliver the so called sweet potatoes. Balducci was then wired..and brought down attorney Joey Langston, and former auditor Steve Patterson. All copped guilty pleas...and cooperated with the fed's. Also implicated his son Zach. He did not plead guilty.

Former Katrina litigation partners who felt short changed and betrayed by Scruggs  immediate reaction.  In an exclusive interview with WLBT News Jackson attorney we posed this question to Steven funderburg a former friend and associate of Dickie Scruggs.  "Why would a man who made one billion dollars in tobacco litigation worry about a mere 26 million dollars that he didn't want to share? "I don't think it's that simplistic. I think after a while the money doesn't matter. I think it's about competitiveness. Power? I think it's about power and the need to be in control. Manipulation? Manipulating the outcome or feeling that the outcome is pre-determined because of you and not tolerating any dissention. Not tolerating any nay-saying and showing who's  going to control any particular given situation."

A tail of corruption, that has scorched the fabric of Mississippi's judicial system. Funderburg described the day as "sad" but said light needed to be shined on some of what was going on in Mississippi. "I think that has happened and will continue to happen. I think it was a much needed wake up call for a lot of people who maybe walked to close to the line," said the Jackson attorney.

Still unanswered is the federal investigation to see what part former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters may have played in influencing a Hinds County Judge. In that case, court documents indicate Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter may have been improperly influenced by peters to get a favorable ruling in another lawyer's fee dispute involving Scruggs. Langston  pleaded guilty for his role in that case.  He was forced to surrender his license to practice law ever again. Delaughter has denied any wrongdoing, while Peters cannot be found.  

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