I wasn’t sure what was going on in this story in the Clarion-Ledger, something about lawyers for William Roberts Wilson filing a motion seeking sanctions against Scruggs is about all I caught. So a reader provided me with a copy of the motion filed in Hinds County March 4, and it becomes clearer. Here’s a copy of the motion.
Recall that this is the case in which Scruggs’ former partner in asbestos lawsuits sued Scruggs over attorney fees he said Scruggs owed him but never paid. In that case, Wilson v. Scruggs, Judge Bobby DeLaughter presided, and Joey Langston, who was counsel for Scruggs near the end of the long case along with Tim Balducci, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe DeLaughter with the offer of a federal judgeship. Balducci, in a February 20 hearing in USA v. Scruggs, testified that he, Scruggs and Langston were in on the bribery plot.
DeLaughter, by the way, continues on the bench and denies wrongdoing. Langston, you remember, has said in statements before the court that he edited or wrote judicial orders in the case, and this is the case in which Zach Scruggs famously said you could write briefs on a napkin and the judge would still rule in your favor. See, for example, this Clarion-Ledger story from January, which contains this paragraph:
In a May 29, 2006, e-mail obtained by federal authorities, Zach Scruggs told his father’s attorney in the case, John Jones of Jackson, that "you could file briefs on a napkin right now and get it granted." Jones responded in his e-mail, "You have misconceptions about Joey and Tim that I hope ultimately do not need to be explored. … If we win, it will be because the law says we win."
(Langston and Balducci were also acting as counsel for Scruggs in the case at that time).
Two things are amazing to me about the motion: one, that the case is somehow still open, and two, that DeLaughter is still presiding over it. As the motion says, the second one must be a mistake, because DeLaughter earlier recused himself from any case Scruggs was involved in. Probably DeLaughter didn’t even know this case was still alive, and I’m having a hard time figuring out why it would be, but it apparently is. The first paragraph of the motion says that the case "is presently an open case on the docket of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, which has never had any final judgment or order filed closing same."
The motion seeks to have DeLaughter and all judges of the district recused from the case — DeLaughter for obvious reasons, and the others presumably because their fairness would also be questioned as colleagues of Judge DeLaughter, although this is not explicitly stated in the motion. The motion also says Wilson will seek sanctions against Scruggs in light of the testimony of Balducci and Langston. I would guess we might also see some kind of action initiated against Langston, who still has a pile of dough.
The motion is followed by exhibits. The first is Langston’s plea agreement, and the second is a partial transcript of testimony by Balducci at the February 20 hearing, where he was being questioned by Scruggs’ lead attorney, John Keker. I thought Balducci held up pretty well to some tough questions, see what you think.
UPDATE: Reading through my Bloglines feeds this morning, I saw this post by Jane Genova about an American Lawyer article on Dickie Scruggs. I’ll check when I get to the office to see if we have a subscription to American Lawyer — working from home, I wouldn’t have a clue if we did or what the online password is — so I haven’t read the story.
But Genova’s description of its working theory is that Scruggs is an average lawyer with above average entrepreneurial acumen. That he got lucky with asbestos and then hit the jackpot with tobacco, but he got crazy and tried to touch the sun and, well, you know the rest.
If I have given a fair approximation of what the American Lawyer story says, this is the wrong theory about Scruggs. I have heard from a number of accomplished lawyers in Mississippi that Scruggs is no great litigation attorney in the sense of traditional skills. That does not lead me to the conclusion that Scruggs is not a great lawyer — to me, a great lawyer is one who gets the results he set out to get. With one qualifier — within the rules. To some degree, you look at any part of Scruggs’ career, he was either changing the rules to fit his needs or, some would say, breaking the rules. The story of Scruggs is not one of a guy who went on one march too far, it’s that of a guy who operated within a system, partially of his own creation, partially adapted from existing structures, that protected and supported his aims, because that system stood to benefit if he did. How things were done, nobody really questioned that much.
Another thing cannot be overlooked. Scruggs, better than just about anyone I have ever seen, knew how to play the media. I am sensitive to this because I used to be a professional journalist, and I know from the inside the strengths and weaknesses of media people. To put it bluntly, he was extraordinarily gifted in coming up with a story line that the media would accept without question, because the reality was too complicated and time consuming for them to get to the bottom of. Better to take the surface story, which was easy to digest and regurgitate.
That’s only part of the story — the rest will have to wait for my book. Publishers, sounds like a good read, doesn’t it?