With the criminal case itself not furnishing many new developments over the past day or two, attention is turning to the question of what the “buried bodies” might be of which Tim Balducci claimed knowledge (and which prosecutors might wish him to sing about), and also to the possibly overlapping topic of Scruggs’s earlier run-ins with lawyers and other professionals over the splitting of fees. (Balducci represented Scruggs in some fee disputes, as did the Jones firm that later sued him over fees.) Also drawing much attention is the question of whether an intensified ethical searchlight will make life hot for the Mississippi political figures who’ve participated most extensively in Scruggs’s litigation campaigns over the years, namely former Attorney General Mike Moore and present AG Jim Hood.
The U.S. Chamber-backed stable of publications that includes Legal NewsLine has been digging into these topics. At the SE Texas Record, Steve Korris relates details of Scruggs’s lengthy and bitter dispute over asbestos fees with attorneys William Roberts Wilson Jr. and Alwyn Luckey, in which Scruggs was represented by John Griffin Jones. Jones’s associate Steve Funderburg in March of this year confronted Scruggs in dramatic fashion in an email over his sense of having been done out of Katrina fees:
“I have looked in the mirror all weekend and tried to figure out how I could be so stupid,” he wrote. “John and I DEFENDED you in fee dispute litigation for God’s sake.”
He wrote, “We DEFENDED you when people said you were greedy, or were a back stabber, or a liar, or anything else.”
He wrote, “You have developed a good routine. It worked. But go to your grave knowing that you have shaken my belief in everything I hold dear.”
He wrote, “I did not believe that people like you really existed. I am ashamed and will always be ashamed of having defended you and protected you.”
See also Y’All Politics for discussion.
In a separate piece, Korris gives a brief sampling (anything but exhaustive) of the other ethical controversies that have followed Scruggs around over his career. They include Scruggs’s repeated involvement in the obtaining and dissemination of internal documents from adversaries in breach of confidentiality requirements; his firing of attorney Juliet Jowett, who claimed fee-denial and sex discrimination and was eventually awarded $420,000; his dispute with Northeastern lawprof Richard Daynard over Daynard’s claim to a contingency share of the tobacco loot (settled by Scruggs after the First Circuit ruled Daynard’s suit could go forward); Judge Acker’s criminal contempt referral in the Katrina litigation, and a rebuke by Judge Senter on a Katrina procedural issue; and a judge’s ruling that corporate shell games were engaged in to permit Scruggs to obtain Mississippi venue for a patent case. Several of these episodes are familiar to readers of this site, especially that of Prof. Daynard, who’s been a favorite of ours over the years (start here).
The relationship that really vaulted Scruggs onto the stage as a leading national player, of course, was that with his old law school chum and Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore (discussed here by Korris and here by David Rossmiller). I’ve been writing about this relationship for so long — at this site and in my 2003 book The Rule of Lawyers, where it served as the book’s virtual centerpiece — that it’s easy for me to forget that any number of readers are arriving here for the first time who know little or nothing of this history. I’ll try to do a separate post at a later date recounting its high points, and the related Scruggs co-optation during the tobacco affair of much of the Mississippi (and not just Mississippi) political class.
In the meantime, however, Rossmiller picks out a relevant quote from Michael Orey’s book Assuming the Risk: The Mavericks, the Lawyers and the Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco. Orey is far more sympathetic than I to the tobacco suits, but perhaps for that very reason was able to get an insider’s view of some of the litigators’ thinking, resulting in the following not undamning passage from pages 266-67:
Even though Johnson’s stealthy maneuvering proved unnecessary, it indicates the lengths to which Scruggs was willing to go to pave the way for success. And throughout late 1993 and early 1994, he took other steps to defuse possible opposition to the Medicaid suit in political circles, holding discussions with various movers and shakers around the state to ensure they would not make any trouble. Sometimes it took more than a discussion. “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.
As mentioned the other day, Moore recently turned up assisting the Katrina Litigation Group (formerly Scruggs Katrina Group), and Y’All Politics and Folo are both buzzing about a deposition (PDF) David Rossmiller has publicized which, among other things, raises questions about whether Moore was playing a dual role in Katrina matters and how he was being compensated.