Justice for Sale? MS Bar Seeks Disbarment - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

03/14/08

Justice for Sale? MS Bar Seeks Disbarment

By Kandiss Crone
kandiss@wlbt.net

In a surprise move Friday , Attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a judge. Prosecutors want to see him spend five years behind bars for his role in paying judge Henry Lackey $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a $26 million lawsuit. Law partner Sidney Backstrom also pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge, and could face 2 1/2 years in prison.

As part of the plea deal, federal prosecutors will defer prosecution of Scruggs' son, Zach. In turn he must give up his license to practice law, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Jackson Attorney Quentin Whitwell, who is Zach Scruggs' fraternity brother, says while it s a sad day in Mississippi politics, it's an important step in cleaning up our judicial system.

"Our judicial system is something that is a prized possession of our state and the citizenry have to be able to have the utmost trust and faith that itis pure," said Whitwell.

Attorney Steven Funderburg worked on the $26 million lawsuit that is at the center of the bribe. He and other partners at this Jackson law firm claimed Scruggs tried to keep most of the $26 million in legal fees for himself, short changing the other partners.

Is this merely a case of a wealthy lawyer getting greedy? WLBT Reporter Marsha Thompson discussed this with Funderberg.

Thompson: "In an email in March to Mr. Scruggs you said, 'we defended you when people said you were greedy, you were a backstabber and you were a liar.' Is that what he is?"

Funderberg: "Well, I'm not going to sit and judge the man. He certainly pled guilty today to conspiracy, and I can tell you he's guilty of that. I can give you my opinion as far as greed, I think that would be a fair comment to ascribe."

John Keker, Scruggs' attorney, did not immediately return our calls, but told the Wall Street Journal Scruggs did not bribe a judge. But wiretapped conversations of incriminating statements from Scruggs seemed to prove the opposite.

The Mississippi Bar plans to file a complaint with the Supreme Court asking that both lawyers are disbarred.

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. Joe Langston pleaded guilty to his part in that case.

Langston, Peters, and former State Auditor Steven Patterson are accused of splitting $3 million that Scruggs saved as a result of Delaughter's ruling. Delaughter has denied any wrongdoing, but Peters cannot be found.

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