- Following public outrage, Spanish businessman drops plans to sue parents of boy he killed in road crash [UK Independent; earlier]
- Scruggs to take Fifth in State Farm case against Hood [Clarion-Ledger] And how much “home cooking” was the Mississippi titan dished out in the Medicaid-tobacco case that made his fortune? [Folo]
- More critics assail ABC “Eli Stone” vaccine-autism fiction, with American Academy of Pediatrics calling for episode’s cancellation [AAP press release; Stier, NY Post; earlier]
- Special ethics counsel recommends disbarment of Edward Fagan, lawyer of Swiss-bank-suit fame whose ethical missteps have been chronicled on this site over the years [Star-Ledger]. As recently as fourteen months ago the L.A. Times was still according Fagan good publicity;
- In past bail-bond scandals, private bond agencies have been caught colluding “with lawyers, the police, jail officials and even judges to make sure that bail is high and that attractive clients are funneled to them.” [Liptak, NYT]
- Archbishop of Canterbury calls for new laws to punish “thoughtless or cruel” comments on religion [Times Online, Volokh]
- Another disturbing case from Massachusetts of a citizen getting charged with privacy violation for recording police activity [also Volokh]
- Abuse of open-records law? Convicted arsonist files numerous requests for pictures and personal information of public employees who sent him to prison; they charge intimidation [AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
- It resembles a news program on Connecticut public-access cable, but look more closely: it’s law firm marketing [Ambrogi]
- Judge says Alfred Rava’s suit can proceed charging sex bias over Oakland A’s stadium distribution of Mother’s Day hats [Metropolitan News-Enterprise; earlier on Angels in Anaheim]
- Crack down on docs with multiple med-mal payouts? Well, there go lots of your neurosurgeons [three years ago on Overlawyered]
* “The FBI is expanding its probe into Mississippi’s judicial bribery scandal to examine other cases involving Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter and his former boss, longtime District Attorney Ed Peters.” The pair surfaced in the Scruggs annals not long ago when Joey Langston pleaded guilty to involvement in a 2006 scheme to get DeLaughter to rule in Scruggs’s favor in a fee lawsuit, which allegedly included the funneling of $1 million of Scruggs’s money to Peters, who was viewed as close to the judge. (Jerry Mitchell, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jan. 28). Rumors have been rife that Peters, DeLaughter or both may be cooperating with authorities, which might strengthen prosecutors’ hand in securing further evidence of the scheme.
* Perhaps relatedly, to quote Folo’s contributor NMC, “In the case against Dickie Scruggs over allegations of bribing Judge Lackey, the prosecution has filed a Notice of Intent to Introduce ‘similar acts evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b), Fed. R. Evid., at the trial’”. See Patsy R. Brumfield, “Prosecutors ready to say bribery attempts aren’t anything new”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Jan. 28.
* With what might seem like startlingly bad timing, Scruggs chum/novelist (and campaign donation co-bundler, if that’s the right term) John Grisham is just out with a new fiction entitled The Appeal, whose thesis, to judge by Janet Maslin’s oddly favorable review in the Times, is that the real problem with the Mississippi judicial system is that salt-of-the-earth plaintiff’s lawyers are hopelessly outgunned in the task of trying to get friendly figures elected to judgeships to sustain the large jury verdicts they win. One wonders whether any of Maslin’s editors warned her about recent news events — she doesn’t seem aware of them — that suggest that the direst immediate problems of the Mississippi judiciary might not relate to populist plaintiff’s lawyers’ being unfairly shut out of influence. Of course it’s possible she’s not accurately conveying the moral of Grisham’s book, and if so I’m not likely to be the first to find out about it, since I’ve never succeeded in reading more than a few pages of that popular author’s work. By the way, if you’re wondering which character in the novel Grisham presents as the “hothead with a massive ego who hated to lose,” yep, it’s the out-of-state defendant.
- Longtime Overlawyered favorite Judy Cates, of columnist-suing fame, is using large sums of her own money to outspend incumbent James Wexstten in hard-fought race for Illinois state judgeship; Democratic primary is Feb. 5 [Belleville News-Democrat, Southern Illinoisan]
- City council told: we’ll cancel your liability coverage if you throw all meetings and city records open to public [Seattle Times]
- Attorney member of Canadian Senate in spot of bother after revelation that she billed client for 30 hours in one day [Vancouver Province, edit]
- A public wiki just for Scruggsiana? After Keker’s minions swoop in to do their edits, the Mississippi attorney may wind up portrayed as the next Mother Teresa, and not the Hitchens version either [WikiScruggs]
- Same general category of point, my Wikipedia entry now suddenly describes me as “controversial”, when but a month ago I wasn’t;
- $28 to $52 million in 18 months for serving as a DoJ “corporate monitor” sounds like nice work if you can get it, and former AG Ashcroft got it without competitive bidding [Lattman, St. Pete Times edit, PolitickerNJ, NJLJ]
- The Amiable Nancy (1818), admiralty case that could prove crucial precedent in Exxon Valdez punitive appeal, has nothing to do with The Charming Betsey (1804), key precedent on international law [Anchorage Daily News; Tom Goldstein/Legal Times]
- “First do no harm… to your attorney’s case” [Cole/Dallas Morning News via KevinMD]
- Probers haven’t come up with evidence of more than middling tiger-taunting, and attorney Geragos says he’ll sue zoo’s p.r. firm for defaming his clients [KCBS; SF Chronicle; AP/USA Today]
- UK’s latest “metric martyr” is Janet Devens, facing charges for selling vegetables in pounds and ounces at London’s Ridley Road market [WSJ; earlier]
- Lawyer can maintain defamation suit over being called “ambulance chaser” interested only in “slam dunk” cases, rules Second Circuit panel [eight years ago on Overlawyered]
Yesterday’s extensive New York Times piece by Nelson D. Schwartz, the lead story in the paper’s Sunday business section, once again (see Dec. 9) provides strong overall perspective on the scandal, along with tidbits that will be new to all but the most obsessed (or most locally knowledgeable) followers of the affair. It focuses in particular on ever-more-central scandal figure P.L. Blake, sometimes known as the $50 million man, of whom we learn:
In interviews, other Mississippi political figures suggest that Mr. Blake has played a key role for Mr. Scruggs over the years. “P. L. essentially has done all the back-room negotiating for Dickie, but you’ll never see his tracks,” says Pete Johnson, a former state auditor who is now co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, a federal agency with headquarters in Clarksdale, Miss. …“He was the nexus of his political network.”
Incidentally, and presumably unrelatedly, former Times insurance-beat reporter Joseph Treaster, whose profiles of Scruggs in years past I’ve had occasion to blast as epically credulous, is departing the paper to teach journalism at the University of Miami, per Romenesko.
Anita Lee of the Biloxi Sun-Herald is also out with another good background piece, including the results of inquiries into a topic of widespread interest, namely the circumstances under which Judge Bobby DeLaughter’s name was not put forward for a federal judgeship even though (according to prosecutors) such a prospect had been dangled by conspirators hoping to improperly influence his rulings on a key Scruggs fee case:
Sen. Thad Cochran’s office told the Sun Herald that DeLaughter’s name was one of those mentioned for the appointment, but would not say which candidates Lott and Cochran privately discussed to recommend to President Bush. The office said Cochran wants to respect the privacy of candidates for the position. … Government evidence indicates DeLaughter e-mailed at least one order to Peters so he could pass it along for pre-approval from Scruggs’ attorneys.
Investigators are presumably taking an interest in confirming the account of Sen. Lott, who is Scruggs’s brother-in-law, that he raised DeLaughter’s name only as a brief and passing “courtesy” as opposed to making a serious effort on the candidate’s behalf (more). And a commenter at Folo points to a passage deep in the now-fabled Luckey transcript which is highly suggestive as to the possible ways in which a large share of P.L. Blake’s millions in tobacco fees might not have remained for long in Mr. Blake’s possession (more).
Earlier coverage can be found on our scandals page.
It will evidently involve trying to get wiretap recordings excluded and seizing on a few of the (many, wandering and seemingly inconsistent) things that informant Tim Balducci said in conversation with Judge Lackey, some of which can be read as portraying Scruggs as out of the bribery loop — though such remarks can be read as simply reflecting the wish of a then conspirator to protect Mr. Scruggs’ plausible deniability, and although other remarks of Balducci’s point in the opposite direction. Coverage: Michael Kunzelman, AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, Jan. 16; Anita Lee, “Attorney says Scruggs had no knowledge of Balducci’s attempted bribe; trial delayed”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Jan. 16; Rossmiller, Jan. 16; Folo multiple guest posts). Update: David Rossmiller now has a more substantial post up analyzing the defense (Jan. 17).
The prosecution, for its part, on Tuesday unsealed some explosive new contentions in the case, alleging that mystery figure P.L. Blake, whose role in the disposition of tobacco settlement money has already been the subject of much discussion, was also a behind-the-scenes player in the attempted Lackey bribe. “In a Sept. 28 telephone call secretly tape-recorded by the government, [Steven] Patterson told Balducci his wife had just gotten off the phone with Blake, who had met with Scruggs, [Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob] Norman said.” (Jerry Mitchell, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Jan. 16).
As a number of commentators have noted (e.g. Brett Kittredge @ Majority in Mississippi, Alan Lange @ YallPolitics), Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who just entered a guilty plea on charges of judicial corruption, is someone accustomed to throwing the weight of his pocketbook around in Mississippi politics. In particular, he has been among the biggest donors to incumbent Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, even as Hood employed Langston and partner Tim Balducci on contract to handle the controversial MCI tax bill negotiations, with their resulting $14 million legal fees payable to Langston et al, and the potentially very lucrative Zyprexa litigation.
Equally interesting in some ways, however, are Langston’s activities on the national political scene. To take just one example: this CampaignMoney.com listing tabulates the top “527” contributions to a group called the Democratic Attorneys General Association, whose political and electoral mission is implied by its name. In the listing, two donors are tied for first place, with contributions of $100,000 apiece. One is the large Cincinnati law firm of Waite Schneider Bayless Chesley, associated with one of the country’s best-known plaintiff’s lawyers, Stanley Chesley. The other $100,000 contribution is from Joey Langston.
In presidential politics, Langston has recently been a repeat donor to the quixotic (and, since Iowa, defunct) campaign of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a lawmaker whose high degree of seniority on the Senate Judiciary Committee makes him important to ambitious lawyers whether or not he ever attains the White House. When the Scruggs scandal was still in its early stages, the WSJ law blog (Dec. 10) noted that two key figures in the affair, Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson, were strong backers of the Biden campaign: “Their bet on Biden was that he wouldn’t win the presidency but would become Secretary of State under a Hillary Clinton administration, according to two people familiar with their thinking.” The Journal reprinted (PDF) an invitation to an Aug. 10, 2007 fundraising reception for Biden at the Oxford (Miss.) University Club, sent out above the names of six hosts, three of whom (Scruggs, Balducci and Patterson) were soon indicted. Scruggs, of course, is better known for his support of Mrs. Clinton, a fundraiser for whom he had to cancel after the scandal broke.
Campaign-contributions databases such as OpenSecrets.org and NewsMeat indicate that Langston has been a prolific and generous donor to incumbent and aspiring Senators across the country, mostly Democrats (Murray, Cantwell, Daschle, Nelson, etc.) but also including a number of Republicans who might be perceived as swing votes or reachable, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Me.), and Arlen Specter (Penn.)
Incidentally, some critics have intimated that Langston’s generous support to DAGA, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, should actually be interpreted as a roundabout gift to Hood, who was the beneficiary of interestingly timed largesse from DAGA. It does not appear, however, that any of the parties involved — Langston, Hood or DAGA — have acknowledged any connection between the timing of the donations (& welcome Michelle Malkin, David Rossmiller, YallPolitics readers).
[Second of a two-part post. The first part is here.]
Yesterday’s guilty plea by Booneville, Miss. attorney Joseph (“Joey”) Langston in the attempted improper influencing of a Mississippi state judge would be major news even if it had nothing to do with the state’s most famous attorney, Richard (“Dickie”) Scruggs. That’s because Langston and his Langston Law Firm have themselves for years been important players on the national mass tort scene. The firm’s own website, along with search engines, can furnish some details:
- Per the firm’s website, it has represented thousands of persons claiming injury from pharmaceuticals, including fen-phen (Pondimin/Redux), Baycol, Rezulin, Lotronex, Propulsid and Vioxx. It was heavily involved in the actions against Bausch & Lomb over ReNu contact lens solution (and its former #2 Timothy Balducci, the first to plead in the widening round of corruption scandals, won appointment to the steering committee of that litigation.)
- The Langston firm has represented thousands of asbestos claimants and says it has “significant” experience in the emerging field of manganese welding-rod litigation, also a specialty of the Scruggs law firm. The website AsbestosCrisis.com includes the Langston law firm in its listing of about thirty law firms deemed notable players on the plaintiff’s side of asbestos litigation (“Tiny firm founded by Joe Ray Langston powerhouse in Mississippi with 50-year roots in state political circles.”)
- Langston appeared to play a sensitive insider role for Scruggs in the largest and most lucrative legal settlement in history, the tobacco-Medicaid deal between state attorneys general and cigarette companies, the ethical squalor of which was a central topic of my 2003 book The Rule of Lawyers; as mentioned previously, when Dickie Scruggs routed mysterious and extremely large tobacco payments to P.L. Blake, he used attorney Langston as intermediary.
- Langston has repeatedly taken a high profile in the same fields of litigation as has Scruggs, including not only suits over asbestos, tobacco and welding rods but also two of Scruggs’s “signature” campaigns, those against HMOs/managed care companies and not-for-profit hospitals.
- Though the firm is better known for its plaintiff’s-side work, the Langston firm’s “national practice” page asserts: “The Langston Law Firm virtually defined the role of ‘Resolution Counsel’ in the modern era of jurisprudence. Prominent domestic and foreign companies facing massive litigation have turned to The Langston Law Firm to create winning strategies to save their companies.”
Many commenters (as at David Rossmiller’s) have noted that Langston appears to have drawn an unusually favorable plea deal from federal investigators, who are granting him remarkably broad immunity as to uncharged offenses, and not even stipulating that he give up all ill-gotten funds. Presumably this signals that they expect Langston’s cooperation to be unusually extensive and valuable. One hopes that this cooperation will include the full and frank disclosure of any earlier corruption and misconduct there may have been in all the past litigation in which Langston has been involved. In particular, tobacco, asbestos, and pharmaceutical litigation have all raised suspicions in the past because of instances in which forum-shopping lawyers took lawsuits of national significance to relatively obscure local courts — quite often in Mississippi — and proceeded to get unusually favorable results which paved the way for the changing hands of very large sums in settlement nationally. Were all these results achieved honestly?
Incidentally, and because it may confuse those researching the matter on the web, it should be noted that there is a second prominent Mississippi plaintiff’s lawyer who bears the same surname but has not been involved in the recent Scruggs scandals, that being Joey’s brother Shane Langston, formerly of Jackson-based Langston, Sweet & Freese. Shane Langston, whose name turned up often in connection with the “hot spots” of pharmaceutical litigation of Southwest Mississippi, has more recently been in the news over client complaints regarding alleged mishandling of expenses related to the Kentucky fen-phen litigation scandals. [Family relationship between the two confirmed 1/16 on the strength of emails from several readers.] (& welcome WSJ Law Blog readers)
[First of a two-part post. The second part is here.]
Folo has posted (PDF) the information on which Joseph (Joey) Langston entered a guilty plea. A sample:
5. Between on or about July of 2006 and July of 2007, JOSEPH C. LANGSTON, Steven A. Patterson and the close personal friend of Robert “Bobby” DeLaughter split $3,000,000, representing the savings to Scruggs as a result of rulings in favor of Scruggs by Judge DeLaughter resulting in a settlement of the case.
A couple of points:
* The identity of the unnamed “close personal friend” of Judge DeLaughter was not revealed in the information, but it is widely assumed that that friend is a reasonably prominent former prosecutor in the state and that that figure may be cooperating with the feds. Since Patterson is also reported to be cooperating with the feds, and presumably will be asked to tell what he knows about this episode as well as the original Judge Lackey bribery attempt, that would make three principals in the DeLaughter/Wilson affair prepared to cooperate with prosecutors. The splitting of $3 million from Scruggs would also presumably leave the sort of paper trail that could not easily be disguised as lunch expense reimbursements and the like.
* The alleged quid pro quo that was to be offered to Judge DeLaughter — who has at all times firmly denied improper influence — is not money, but consideration for promotion to the federal bench. Judge DeLaughter was in fact considered for a recommendation to such appointment by the office of Scruggs’s brother-in-law, Sen. Trent Lott, but was not in the event appointed. It can be anticipated that the circumstances of that non-appointment — his brush with appointment, as it were — will come under close scrutiny.
Now we may have a better idea why prominent Booneville, Miss. lawyer Joseph Langston recently withdrew as counsel for Dickie Scruggs in the widening corruption scandal: per a report by Jerry Mitchell in Sunday’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Langston was himself nabbed on corruption charges, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal authorities. According to the article, Langston’s guilty plea arose from his involvement in one of Scruggs’s many fee disputes with fellow lawyers, this one being the Luckey-Wilson asbestos fee matter (in which Scruggs’ adversaries were Alwyn Luckey and William Roberts Wilson Jr.) Langston will apparently testify that he worked with both Dickie Scruggs and son Zach in an attempt to improperly influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who issued rulings favorable to Scruggs in the case. In one memorable detail, the C-L reports that federal authorities have obtained a May 29, 2006, e-mail in which “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.'” Judge DeLaughter has denied any impropriety. (Jerry Mitchell, “Another lawyer pleads guilty”, Jan. 13). Separately, Patsy Brumfield of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, who was first with an unconfirmed report of Langston’s guilty plea, also reports from unnamed sources that federal prosecutors have flipped another of the five indictees in the original scandal, Steven Patterson (partner of informant Tim Balducci), and that documents to be unsealed Monday will clarify other aspects of the status of the case. (“First public clue Patterson has pleaded in Scruggs case”, Jan. 11; “Scruggs updates”, Jan. 12). Discussion: Lotus/folo, Jan. 12, Jan. 13.
The implications are enormous. Among them:
* It looks as if informant Balducci, who formerly practiced law in the Langston law firm, wasn’t kidding when he said he knew where there were “bodies buried“. Information from Balducci likely helped lead the feds to raid the Langston office and seize records documenting the alleged Wilson-Luckey conspiracy.
* Langston is no incidental Scruggs sidekick or henchman; he’s quite a big deal in his own right, with a national reputation in mass tort litigation. He’s been deeply involved in pharmaceutical liability litigation, in tobacco litigation, in litigation against HMOs, and in litigation against non-profit hospitals over alleged violations of their charitable charters, among other areas. Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, the law enforcement officer who has comically been playing potted plant as one after another of his closest political allies have been getting indicted in recent weeks, has employed Langston as lead counsel for the state in both the controversial Eli Lilly Zyprexa litigation and the even more controversial MCI back-tax-bill litigation. Langston also served Scruggs as go-between in the much-discussed funneling of $50 million in tobacco funds to ex-football player P.L. Blake (to whom now-reportedly-flipped Patterson was also close). If the reports that Langston is now cooperating with the feds are accurate, he will presumably be expected to tell what he knows about other episodes. (Langston has also endeavored to provide intellectual leadership for the plaintiff’s bar, as in this Federalist Society panel discussion presentation (PDF) in which he strongly criticizes the work on federalism and state attorneys general of Ted’s AEI colleague Michael Greve).
* Part of Scruggs’s modus operandi, as we know from tobacco and Katrina (among other) episodes, is to arrange to bring down prosecutions and other public enforcement actions on the heads of his litigation opponents. A particularly brutal instance of this crops up in today’s Clarion-Ledger piece, which reports that Scruggs in 2001 took documents obtained in discovery from Wilson, his fee-dispute opponent, and brought them to Hinds County (Jackson) district attorney Ed Peters hoping to instigate a state tax prosecution of Wilson:
Later, one of Wilson’s lawyers met with Peters, and [Wilson attorney Vicki] Slater said Peters told that lawyer that a “high-ranking public official” asked him to prosecute Wilson.
Peters could not be reached for comment.
Wilson did nothing to warrant criminal prosecution, Slater said. “All of this was to help Scruggs in his lawsuit.”
This is the same Dickie Scruggs of whom the New York Times was less than a year ago running moistly admiring profiles quoting common-man admirers of the Oxford, Miss.: lawyer: “good people. … If he tells you something, it’s gospel.”
P.S. It would certainly be interesting to know who that “high-ranking public official” who helped Scruggs in the tax-prosecution matter was, if there was one.
P.P.S. Corrected Monday a.m.: “Langston’s guilty plea was to an information; he waived indictment” (Folo). This post originally described Langston as pleading to an indictment.
- Surely not something 007 would do: judge reproaches Sean Connery and opponent neighbor over “slash-and-burn” litigation tactics in long-running townhouse dispute [NYLJ, NYTimes]
- Famed attorney Mark Geragos suing San Francisco Zoo on behalf of tiger maulees [AP/KPIX, Mercury-News, SFist]
- Clients, lawyers who formerly worked for it have many complaints ethical and otherwise about heavy-advertising San Diego law firm Pacific Law Center [Union-Tribune via San Diego Injury Board]
- Who knew the demanding workload of law students and federal-judge clerks left any time for (allegedly) tying up, robbing and torturing boyfriends? [Reynolds; Lat]
- The Scruggs et al prosecution continues to evolve and develop, but at present we haven’t much to add to the energetic threesome of sites that have been leading the news hunt [Rossmiller, Lotus/Folo, YallPolitics]
- UK man wrongly accused of rape will get public compensation, but minus a fee for bed and board at the prison [Daily Mail]
- Under Louisville’s new smoking ban, business owners are required to call cops if customers refuse to stop smoking inside [Catallaxy]
- Garry Wise takes issue with our comments on free speech in Canada, but we may be talking past each other since we never got to the question whether the proper fix is a motion by columnist Steyn to quash the dangerous inquiry [Wise law blog]
- Injury suits filed against little kids? “It does happen.” More on the Scott Swimm ski-collision case [L.A. Times/Chicago Tribune; earlier]
- Hope he’ll reconsider: David Giacalone says he’s weary of the legal-ethics beat he’s covered so well, and intends to leave it behind [f/k/a]