That New York Times story from yesterday has got to have more than a few folks in Mississippi wondering if those buried bodies Tim Balducci spoke of to Judge Lackey will begin to resurface, kind of like the fish-belly white arm that pops to the surface of the lake in Jon Voight’s dream at the end of Deliverance.
Here’s an excerpt:
According to an official investigating the Scruggs case who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly, federal prosecutors have asked the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section to examine whether Mr. Scruggs has engaged in multiple bribery attempts of local judges. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment publicly on the case. The case is also likely to fuel further debate over the merits of lucrative class-action lawsuits.
In the context of the current Jones v. Scruggs fee dispute litigation, the story also speaks to previous fee dispute run-ins Scruggs has had, a frequent theme of people who contact me and allege that Scruggs short-changed them on their end of fees when they partnered with him in litigation:
“It’s scorched earth with Dickie Scruggs,” says Mr. Merkel, sitting in a wood-paneled office featuring duck-hunting memorabilia and two framed checks representing about $17 million in payments that Mr. Scruggs had to disgorge to Mr. Merkel’s client — a lawyer named Alwyn Luckey who argued that Mr. Scruggs shortchanged him for work he performed on asbestos cases that made Mr. Scruggs rich.
Mr. Merkel and prosecutors say that the Luckey case foreshadowed some of Mr. Scruggs’ woes in the current bribery case. “As far as whether he’s guilty, I can’t say,” Mr. Merkel concedes. “But I’m not surprised, because he’s willing to use any means to an end. And it irks the hell out of me when Scruggs skates on the edge and makes the profession look bad.”
I want to point out one more paragraph from the story before moving on to highlight the point at the end of this post. Here is the graf:
Working the political and legal machinery in Mississippi isn’t new to Mr. Scruggs. In his deposition with Mr. Merkel in 2004, he discussed some $10 million in payments he made to P. L. Blake, a onetime college football star in Mississippi. After running into financial troubles, Mr. Blake became a political consultant for Mr. Scruggs, helping his boss navigate the back rooms of state politics and tobacco litigation.
Now, let’s consider one further thing before we look at some documents.
Here is a paragraph I quoted from the Michael Orey book, Assuming the Risk, last week:
"There were [some] people who had political connections, that I’m not even at liberty to tell you who they are, that had to be touched, that had to be talked to, that had to be given a stake in [the litigation]," Scruggs says. He retained two or three of these mystery consultants to run political interference. "These guys have lots of friends and connections with the legislature," he explains. "These are people who are lobbyists, but they’re not really registered lobbyists. It’s really sort of the dark side of the force." Over the course of the litigation, Scruggs says, he paid these individuals well over $500,000.
Now, the book says $500,000, the Times story says $10 million paid to Blake, but look in the transcript around pages 511-514 (the page numbers are half cut off in the transcript, so you have to decipher them just a bit) — the actual amount Scruggs agreed to pay to "the dark side of the force," as Scruggs himself put it, appears to be about $50 million to influence legislation. Not $500,000, not $10 million, but $50 million. This is a matter of public record. Look for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Below are transcripts of the Luckey trial from June 2005 and of the deposition of Scruggs from that case in August 2004.
UPDATE: Also look on pages 346-349 of the Scruggs deposition for the $50 million figure.