Scruggs indictment IV

The WSJ law blog’s Peter Lattman is now reporting from Scruggs hometown Oxford, Miss. and (with co-reporter Paolo Prada) is in today’s paper with “It’s Party Time For Dickie Scruggs In Oxford, Miss.” (WSJ, Dec. 4, sub-only). Among its newsy items: “People familiar with the investigation” confirm what was widely surmised, that attorney Timothy Balducci “began cooperating with prosecutors at some point after offering the judge money”. Balducci’s whereabouts are not immediately apparent and a “neighbor said no one had been [at his home] for a more than a week.” How much heat is attorney Balducci getting for his role in the case? The WSJ-on-paper quotes Deborah Patterson, wife of Balducci’s business partner and co-defendant Steven Patterson, as saying of Balducci: “He’s a short midget…and he has some sort of complex.” In the online version of the article this quote is shortened (so to speak) to “He has some sort of complex,” but with no correction or other explanation of whether the midget reference was repertorial error or what, exactly.

As emerges fairly clearly in the piece, the Scruggs camp is encouraging a line of defense that portrays Balducci, who has worked extensively with Scruggs in the past and has represented him in earlier lawsuits charging unfair fee division, as a clueless wannabe who pursued the bribe scheme on his own in hopes of impressing the senior lawyer — “a young man wanting to endear himself to Dickie Scruggs”, as one Scruggs intimate is quoted as saying. Famed novelist and Scruggs buddy John Grisham is quoted in the article (and in a separate WSJ blog interview) as saying that the scheme “doesn’t sound like the Dickie Scruggs that I know,” Mr. Grisham said yesterday. “When you know Dickie, and how successful he has been, you could not believe he would be involved in such a boneheaded bribery scam that is not in the least bit sophisticated.” But this is to assume that the payments starkly presented by the indictment as cash-for-the-judge were not intended to be dressed up in some more sophisticated guise, such as eventually forgiven loans routed through some fellow lawyer’s office, made to a relative of the judge, or both. That was the way things were handled in the Paul Minor cash-for-judges affair, in which Scruggs himself was involved, and one should not assume that no such overlay of sophistication would not have been poured over the Lackey payments.

Unrelatedly, novelist Grisham has this to say about the man who indicted Scruggs:

I was in law school with Jim Greenlee (the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, the prosecutor who brought the case against Mr. Scruggs.) He’s a man of integrity and a good prosecutor and he’s not going to reveal everything. Jim and I started and finished law school together and practiced in the same small town (Southaven, MS).

He’s a good, steady prosecutor, but I also anticipate a very vigorous defense.

Sunday’s Biloxi Sun-Herald has some interesting reporting about the fee-splitting dispute between attorney John Griffin Jones and Scruggs that landed in Judge Lackey’s court:

In January, Jones e-mailed Scruggs and SKG partner Sidney A. Backstrom, according to copies State Farm has filed in a lawsuit to stop Hood’s investigation.

In the first e-mail, Jones said his firm had lost $2 million in revenue alone on the insurance litigation until his firm was “excommunicated” from SKG in December 2006. “And what member of the joint venture committed to the work on the chance he would simply be made whole?” Jones said. “Certainly none I know of.”

Backstrom fired back: “… the whistle-blowers came to Dick and they were the sole basis for Hood’s interest which really was 80 percent of why SF wanted to settle; Trent Lott and Gene Taylor signed up with our office, as did (U.S.) Judge (Louis) Guirola – that mattered big time to SF too… ”

In the next e-mail Jones thanked Backstrom for his candor and said he didn’t want any of the SKG partners to be shortchanged. Jones closed with this prediction: “I want to avoid this as bad as I need to be paid for committing 2½ years of my law practice to what Dick has asked of me, but if that is where it is headed this is going to be awful for all of us.”

In March, Jones sued.

To put it differently, Backstrom was pointing out to Jones that SKG’s assemblage of political connections and clout, as distinct from its strictly legal skills, accounted for much of its payday. Sun-Herald reporter Lee also provides a brief reprise of the Minor prosecution:

Dickie Scruggs’ name surfaced repeatedly during judicial bribery trials that targeted a former associate, millionaire attorney Paul Minor of Biloxi. Today Minor sits in prison.

Both men helped finance judicial campaigns and failed to report repayment of loans for candidates. But prosecutors presented evidence Minor prevailed in cases before two of those state court judges from the Coast.

Scruggs testified against Minor at trial, declining immunity from prosecution because he said he had done nothing wrong. Minor said he did nothing wrong, either, except failing to have Trent Lott for a brother-in-law.

(Anita Lee, “Lawyer’s Prediction, Scruggs case: ‘This is going to be awful for all'”, Dec. 2; Y’allPolitics, Dec. 3). And Y’allPolitics recalls more about Scruggs’s successful dodging of prosecution in the Minor affair (Dec. 2), citing this Overlawyered “bag-o’-cash” account of Aug. 7, 2005.

David Rossmiller has a new post up catching some different details in these stories. Also check out Peter Henning at White Collar Crime Prof Blog on the “honest-services” predicate by which courts have given federal prosecutors fairly wide latitude to go after local and state corruption (Nov. 30)(& Jane Genova).

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