ILR comments. The judge-bribing attorney had requested a 30-month sentence (in conjunction with the now-standard set of hundreds of letters listing his supposed good deeds); his plea agreement provided for a five-year maximum sentence, which he got. He’ll still have the jet and millions of dollars when he gets out, even after paying the $250,000 fine imposed at the sentencing. David Rossmiller and Folo will undoubtably continue their excellent coverage, or check our previous Dickie Scruggs coverage.
“Wow. Judge Acker found Scruggs and the Rigsby sisters jointly and severally liable for civil contempt and a fine of $65,000 in the Renfroe v. Rigsby case, relating to failure to promptly return the stolen State Farm claims files to Renfroe’s counsel.” Maybe stealing documents isn’t such a good strategy after all? And that’s aside from what the judge said about Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood — which starts with the epithet quoted in the post title, and just gets more stinging from there. (David Rossmiller, Jun. 5; Anita Lee, “Judge fines Scruggs, Rigsby sisters”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Jun. 6; order, opinion PDF). More: U.S. Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine (Hood’s response).
“At its worst, the system is close to legalized extortion. … It would be nice if the class-action lawyers reformed themselves, but if not, someone should file a lawsuit.” But op-ed columnist David Ignatius regards Melvyn Weiss and Dickie Scruggs as “good guys” gone wrong and says what occasioned their downfall “was a system in which the money just got too big”. This suggests their practices were more honest and aboveboard at an earlier stage in their careers when the stakes were smaller, but Ignatius does not offer evidence for this view, and I wonder whether he has any (“Reining In the Kings of Tort”, Washington Post, Jun. 5).
Relatedly, the New Yorker published a big article last month on the Scruggs scandal by correspondent Peter Boyer. (“The Bribe”, May 19, abstract; PDF at WSJ law blog). David Rossmiller, unsurpassed chronicler of that scandal, does an excellent job explaining why the article is, not wrong, exactly, but disappointing (May 27).
Hard-hitting column by Stuart Taylor, Jr. on the destructiveness of the current legal actions
seeking more than $400 billion from companies that did business in South Africa during apartheid, [which] score high on what I call Taylor’s Index of Completely Worthless Lawsuit Indicators:
• The lawsuits will do victims of wrongdoing little or no good.
• They will penalize no human being who has done anything wrong.
• They will deter more conduct that is beneficial than harmful.
• The legal costs and any damages will come at the expense of the general public.
• The lawsuits therefore serve no purpose at all but to enrich lawyers and provide ideological power trips for some judges as well as lawyers.
American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza, recently allowed to go forward, is being led by (among others) class-actioneer and frequent Overlawyered mentionee Michael Hausfeld.
The apartheid lawsuit is one of dozens seeking to pervert the Alien Tort Statute to mulct companies for ordinary commercial conduct in countries accused of human-rights violations. Caterpillar, for example, was sued for selling bulldozers that Israel used to destroy suspected Palestinian terrorists’ homes. (The case was dismissed.) “The American bar is actively soliciting alien plaintiffs” to try out novel theories, State Department legal adviser John Bellinger noted in a recent speech. Because so many federal judges have smiled on such suits, Bellinger added, foreign governments increasingly regard the U.S. judiciary “as something of a rogue actor.”
With added commentary on the Kivalina climate-change class action, Rhode Island lead paint, shareholder litigation, and Lerach, Weiss, and Scruggs. (National Journal, May 17, will rotate off page so catch it now).
- “I did not know what kind of monster we were dealing with”: dramatic testimony from Judge Lackey on Scruggs corruption [Folo; and repercussions too]
- New at Point of Law: Pork-barreling Albany lawmakers shell out for just what NY needs, three more law schools; Sarbanes-Oxley unconstitutional? Ted goes after JAMA on Vioxx; sadly, appeals court overturns Santa Clara opinion that nailed ethical problems with govt.-paid contingency fee; legal aid lawyers, to subprime borrowers’ rescue? and much more;
- Cadbury claim: we own the color purple as it relates to chocolate [Coleman]
- A world gone mad: Innocence Project directors include… Janet Reno? [Bernstein @ Volokh]
- Not unrelatedly: Can a California prosecutor be held liable for wrongful murder conviction of man freed after 24 years? [Van de Kamp versus Goldstein, L.A. Times via Greenfield]
- With all his lawyer chums from Milberg-witness days, you’d think Ben Stein could have saved the makers of his creationist movie from stumbling into textbook IP infringements [Myers, again, WSJ law blog]
- Groggy from dental anesthesia, plus a half a glass to drink: then came the three felony DUI counts [Phoenix New Times, Balko via Reynolds]
- Shell says boaters had years of notice that mandated ethanol in fuel was incompatible with fiberglass marine gas tanks, which hasn’t stopped the filing of a class action [L.A. Times via ABA Journal]
- Terrorism asymmetry: “They say ‘Allahu Akbar!’ we say ‘Imagine the liability!'” [McCarthy/Lopez, NRO]
- Deborah Jeane Palfrey convicted [WaPo; earlier]
- David Neiwert truly born yesterday if he thinks Kevin Phillips is noteworthy for his record of being right [Firedoglake; some correctives]
- Plenty of reaction to our Tuesday post questioning the NYT school-bullying story, including reader comments and discussion at other blogs; one lawprof passes along a response by the Wolfe family to the Northwest Arkansas Times’s reporting [updated post]
- Geoffrey Fieger, of jury-swaying fame, says holding his forthcoming criminal trial in Detroit would be unfair because juries there hate his guts [Detroit News]
- Another Borat suit down as Judge Preska says movie may be vulgar but has social value, and thus falls into “newsworthiness” exception to NY law barring commercial use of persons’ images [ABA Journal]
- Employer found mostly responsible for accident that occurred after its functionaries overrode a safety device, but a heavy-equipment dealer also named as defendant will have to pay more than 90 percent of resulting $14.6 million award [Bloomington, Ill. Pantagraph]
- New Mexico Human Rights Commission fines photographer $6600 for refusing a job photographing same-sex commitment ceremony [Volokh, Bader]
- “Virginia reaches settlement with families of VA Tech shooting victims” [Jurist]
- Roger Parloff on downfall of Dickie Scruggs [Fortune]
- Judge in Spain fined heavily and disbarred for letting innocent man spend more than a year in jail [AP/IHT, Guardian]
- Hard to know whether all those emergency airplane groundings actually improved safety, they might even have impaired it [Murray/NRO “Corner”, WSJ edit]
- “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value” — tracking down the context of that now-celebrated quote from a Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator [Volokh]
- Who was it that said that lawyers “need to be held accountable for frivolous lawsuits that help drive up the cost of malpractice insurance”? Hint: initials are J.E. [three years ago on Overlawyered]
Not so fast, he says — the Mississippi Bar didn’t file a “certified copy” of his guilty plea. (Patsy R. Brumfield, “Dickie Scruggs files to dismiss attempt to have him disbarred”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Apr. 1).
David Rossmiller has ten unanswered questions about loose ends in the Scruggs scandal (Mar. 24) which elicit responses in turn (and more unanswered questions) from NMC and Lotus at Folo (plus an NMC update). These latter bloggers, by the way, have shed their anonymity and stand revealed as Oxford, Miss. lawyer Tom Freeland (NMC) and retired lawyer Jan Goodrich, now of New Smyrna Beach, Fla. (Lotus), now also joined by Jane Tucker.
Is it okay for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) to take Scruggs’s money? “It depends on what the felony is…” Chancellor Robert Khayat is quoted as saying (Folo/NMC, Apr. 1; more). Gulfport M.D. Bill Hemeter, in a letter to the editor printed in the Biloxi Sun-Herald (Mar. 19), is claiming prescience: “I sent Chancellor Khayat the book ‘The Rule of Lawyers’ by Walter Olson several years ago, with a warning not to take money from plaintiff attorneys.” Earlier, when Scruggs pled guilty, another university official was heard from:
“My initial reaction is one of sadness,” said Samuel Davis, dean of the University of Mississippi Law School, Scruggs’ alma mater. “I’ve known and been friends with Dick and Diane Scruggs almost 50 years now going back to our days in Pascagoula, and I feel a great sense of compassion for him and his family. And that’s just a very personal reaction. I haven’t really thought about the implications for the legal community or the legal profession.”
Davis, who also directs the Ole Miss Law Center, said not everybody who pleads guilty is guilty and that Scruggs might have had other reasons for the move. If that were the case, Davis said, the reasons likely were good ones.
And from Sid Salter of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger (Mar. 19): “In spite of their insistence that there were no ethical lapses in their behavior on the tobacco suit, [former attorney general Michael] Moore and Scruggs still owe the taxpayers of Mississippi an accounting of the lawyers’ fees and expenses that accrued from that litigation.”
Our weekend post questioning defense attorney John Keker’s assertions of the innocence of client Dickie Scruggs (“prosecutors have concocted a ‘manufactured crime’ in which his client had no part”) drew a couple of comments from readers who saw Keker’s statements as no more than the zealous advocacy we should expect of a defense attorney. They’ve also been discussing the issue over at the WSJ law blog, where they quote defense attorney Benjamin Brafman’s rapidly disproved boast that his client Mel Weiss “will be fully exonerated,” as well as Monroe Freedman, the Hofstra legal ethicist and regular antipode of views expressed on this site, who
says that generally speaking, he doesn’t see problems with a lawyer making aggressive statements to the press in defense of his client. “We don’t know what the client told the lawyer when the lawyer made the statements,” he says. “We don’t know what Scruggs told his lawyer. We don’t know if Scruggs said I did it, but I want to fight it or something else entirely.”
George Sharswood’s Essay on Professional Responsibility, the standard American text on legal ethics before the modern period, contains the following assertion (pp. 99-100 of Google Books digitized version):
…no counsel can with propriety and good conscience express to court or jury his belief in the justice of his client’s cause, contrary to the fact. Indeed, the occasions are very rare in which he ought to throw the weight of his own private opinion into the scales in favor of the side he has espoused. If that opinion has been formed on a statement of facts not in evidence, it ought not to be heard — it would be illegal and improper in the tribunal to allow any force whatever to it; if on the evidence only, it is enough to show from that the legal and moral grounds on which such opinion rests.
- Speaking of patients who act against medical advice and sue anyway: doctor who advised against home birth is cleared by Ohio jury in $13 million suit [Plain Dealer and earlier via KevinMD]
- UK: “A feud over a 4ft-wide strip of land has seen neighbours rack up £300,000 in lawyers’ bills, and left one family effectively homeless.” [Telegraph]
- Last of the Scruggs judicial bribery defendants without a plea deal, Dickie’s son Zack, takes one [Folo]
- By reader acclaim: securities trader sues over injury from lap dancer’s attentions [AP/NY Sun]
- Amid the talk of FISA and retroactive telecom immunity, it would be nice to hear more about the actual lawsuits [Obbie]
- Australian worker loses suit over firing despite a doctor’s note vouching that stress of worrying about upcoming football game made it medically necessary for him to take day off to go see it [Stumblng Tumblr]
- Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen toss around the question of federal FDA pre-emption of drug liability suits, as raised by Medtronic;
- Should Coughlin Stoia have bought those stolen Coke documents? For one lawprof, question’s a real head-scratcher [David McGowan (San Diego), Legal Ethics Forum] And WSJ news side is oddly unskeptical of trial lawyers’ line that the affair just proves their power to go on fishing expeditions should never have been curtailed [Jones/Slater]
- Dashboard-cam caught Tennessee cops red-handed planting marijuana on suspect, or so Jonathan Turley suggests — but could it be a little more complicated than that? [WSMV, AP/WATE] (& Greenfield)
- “Heck Baptists don’t even sue you for disagreeing with them,” though no doubt there are exceptions [Instapundit; NYT on Danish cartoons; Ezra Levant with more on those Canadian speech tribunals]
- Bestselling authors who sue their critics [four years ago on Overlawyered]
It’s bad enough and sad enough to read the sorry story of the greed of tort-king “Dickie” Scruggs. The evidence and the transcripts was, of course, damning.
It was really nauseating, however, to read the absurd assertion by John Keker, his lawyer, that Mr. Scruggs was innocent and that the “prosecutors have concocted a ‘manufactured crime’ in which his client had no part” (“A Lawyer’s Trials: Tort King’s Path to Bribery Charge,” page one, March 14). So, according to Mr. Keker, the prosecutors could freely be accused of trying to frame an innocent man.
All Mr. Keker should have said was that his client had pleaded not guilty and that the matter would proceed to trial.
One assumed that when Mr. Keker made factual assertions he was accurately reporting what Mr. Scruggs had told him, since he presumably knew Mr. Scruggs’s side of the story through lengthy interviews under the protection of the attorney-client privilege.
Then we learned, a few hours later, that Mr. Scruggs was guilty all along. Either Mr. Keker knew this or he was ignorant.
Why lawyers in criminal-defense cases feel compelled to make factual assertions about their clients’ innocence, facts which they couldn’t possibly know, is beyond me.
Every day these lawyers appear on television and in the papers repeating the ridiculous alibis of their clients, not as their clients’ legal positions but as facts, only to be ultimately made foolish by a plea or a trial.
Innocent or guilty, a lawyer should retain his dignity and that of his client, if possible.
Felix M. Phillips
Attorney at Law
More: Discussion continues in this Tuesday post.