- “I believe it’s frivolous; I believe it’s ridiculous, and I believe it’s asinine”: Little Rock police union votes lopsidedly not to join federal “don/doff” wage-hour lawsuit asking pay for time spent on uniform changes [Arkansas Democrat Gazette courtesy U.S. Chamber]
- Must-read Roger Parloff piece on furor over law professors’ selling of ethics opinions [Fortune; background links @ PoL]
- Too rough on judge-bribing Mississippi lawyers? Like Rep. Conyers at House Judiciary, but maybe not for same reasons, we welcome renewed attention to Paul Minor case [Clarion-Ledger]
- American Airlines backs off its plan to put Logan skycaps on salary-only following loss in tip litigation [Boston Globe; earlier]
- U.K.: Infamous Yorkshire Ripper makes legal bid for freedom, civil liberties lawyer says his human rights have been breached [Independent]
- In long-running campaign to overturn Feres immunity for Army docs, latest claim is that military knowingly withholds needed therapy so as to return soldiers to front faster [New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey on CBS; a different view from Happy Hospitalist via KevinMD]
- Profs. Alan Dershowitz and Robert Blakey hired to back claim that Russian government can invoke U.S. RICO law in its own courts to sue Bank of New York for $22 billion [WSJ law blog, earlier @ PoL]
- Minnesota Supreme Court declines to ban spanking by parents [Star-Tribune, Pioneer Press]
- Following that very odd $112 million award (knocked down from $1 billion) to Louisiana family in Exxon v. Grefer, it’s the oil firm’s turn to offer payouts to local neighbors suffering common ailments [Times-Picayune, UPI]
- AG Jerry Brown “has been suing, or threatening to sue, just about anyone who doesn’t immediately adhere” to his vision of building California cities up rather than out [Dan Walters/syndicated]
- Virginia high school principal ruled entitled to disability for his compulsion to sexually harass women [eight years ago on Overlawyered]
- The Canadian Transportation Agency (as part of its regulation of airline ticket prices) has ruled that obese passengers are entitled to have two airline seats for the price of one, which will no doubt encourage further suits against the American practice. (h/t Rohan) One looks forward to the Canadian lawsuits complaining that an obese passenger wasn’t adjudged obese enough to get a free second seat. [Australian; Toronto Star; Gunter @ National Post; earlier on Overlawyered]
- Also in Canada, Ezra Levant defends his free speech rights against a misnamed Alberta “Human Rights Commission” over his republication of the Danish Muhammed cartoons. [Frum; National Post; Steyn @ Corner; Wise Law Blog; Youtube; related on Overlawyered]
- Alleged car-keying attorney “Grodner is now under investigation by the state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, sources said. Commission officials declined to comment Thursday.” [Chicago Tribune; Jan. 4]
- “Life is short—get a divorce” attorney Corri Fetman parlays her tasteless billboard (May 10; May 8) into tasteless Playboy topless-modeling and advice-column gig. In the words of Alfred E. Neuman, “Blech.” On multiple and independent grounds. Surprisingly, Above the Law avoids the snark of noting that the lead paragraph of Fetman’s law firm web site bio includes a prestigious 23-year-old quote from a college professor’s recommendation for law school. [Above the Law; Chicago Sun-Times; Elefant]
- Wesley Snipes (Jun. 11; Nov. 2006) appears to be going for a Cheek defense in his tax-evasion trial—which is hard to do when you’re a multimillionaire whose well-paid accountants explicitly tell you you’re violating the law. (Remember what I said about magical incantations and taxes?) [Tampa Tribune; Quatloos]
- Accountant Mark Maughan loses his search-engines-make-me-look-bad lawsuit (Mar. 2004) against Google, which even got Rule 11 sanctions. (That happened in 2006. Sorry for the delay.) More on Google and privacy: Jan. 16. [Searchenginewatch]
- Bribed Mississippi judges in Paul Minor case (Sep. 8 and much more coverage) report to prison. [AP]
Yes, it seems there were wiretaps. Defendants will be seeing evidence from the prosecution momentarily which might (or might not) be the trigger for further flipping and early plea deals, if such there will be.
There is enormous curiosity (e.g.) about P.L. Blake, to whom Scruggs says he paid $10 million (and tens of millions more in future payments) for vaguely described intelligence services aimed at swaying political influentials during the tobacco caper. Per a 1997 account posted at Y’All Politics, “Blake pleaded ‘no contest’ in 1988 to a federal charge that he conspired to bribe officials of the now-defunct Mississippi Bank to secure favorable loan terms.” The same article, citing reporting in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reports that Blake was in close phone contact between 1994 and 1996 with eventually-disgraced state Auditor Steve Patterson, who after leaving office went into partnership with Timothy Balducci and is one of the five indicted in the current Scruggs affair. Per AP, “Patterson was a banker at Mississippi Bank before his 1984-1987 tenure as head of the Mississippi Democratic Party.”
David Rossmiller, as so often, is out front with a report filling in background on two other controversies involving Blake. One arose from a venture into the grain storage business which landed him in a Texas dispute in which his attorney was none other than Fred Thompson, later a Tennessee senator and presidential candidate. The other arose from his cordial dealings with a former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).
Harper’s blogger Scott Horton has now published his take, as is his wont heavily dependent on hush-hush (but no doubt wholly trustworthy) confidential sources who float all sorts of theories about scoundrelly doings by the highly placed. He winds up with a theory that would pull Sen. Lott into it (though with no allegation of criminality) by way of the Acker contempt matter, as distinct from either the Balducci/Lackey bribery attempt or, say, the Paul Minor affair. Of Horton’s many anonymously sourced speculations, the one that caught my eye was tucked into a footnote: “A law enforcement official I interviewed, who for professional reasons asked to remain anonymous, told me that Scruggs’s junior partner Sidney Backstrom might take the same road as Balducci.” Now that is
news a rumor (more). (Update Tues. evening: Backstrom’s attorney Frank Trapp flatly denies that anything of the sort is in the works: Patsy R. Brumfield, “Backstrom firm on innocence, his attorney says”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Dec. 12.)
This is probably a good place to apprise readers who aren’t aware of it that 25-odd years ago, while first gaining a footing in the policy world, I worked briefly on Capitol Hill drafting research papers for a committee then headed by Mr. Lott. We only talked a couple of times, I had never set foot in the state of Mississippi at the time, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, but if you’re a conspiracy theorist about such matters, there you have it.
At Y’All Politics, commenter “lawdoctor1960” has some speculation as to why the remarkable deposition of Scruggs in the Luckey case didn’t get more media or political attention at the time.
Attorney Tim Balducci’s role as deputized lawyer for the state of Mississippi in the MCI and Zyprexa cases is drawing public scrutiny, and may result in pressure for reform of AG outside contracting.
We’ve started a new “Scandals” category for readers who want quick access to coverage of the Mississippi mess, also stocked with some earlier links to coverage of such earlier blow-ups as Milberg Weiss/Lerach, Kentucky fen-phen, the Paul Minor affair, etc. For those who are following Scruggs posts in sequence, be aware that yesterday’s first and second posts fell outside the numbering scheme.
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.
David Rossmiller at Insurance Coverage Blog (who’s also a co-blogger of mine at Point of Law) continues to be the must-read source on this sensational story and its fast-breaking developments. He’s posted a PDF of Jones v. Scruggs, the lawsuit before Judge Lackey by lawyers who say they were cut out of Katrina fees. He also offers some answers to the question posed by a commenter at Above the Law, who asks, “What kind of cheap-o offers a $40,000 bribe to resolve a dispute over $26.5 million in attorneys fees?!” (To begin with, the ruling sought from Judge Lackey would not have disposed of the fee claim, just sent it to arbitration.) Martin Grace scents a ripe irony in the fee-dispute lawsuit, noting that it charged Scruggs with engaging in the same sorts of tactics toward fellow lawyers that he regularly accused insurers of practicing toward their insureds: “lowballing claims and producing fake documents in support of the claims.”
Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft writes that Judge Lackey “presumably [agreed] to tape his calls with the defendants. I suspect the F.B.I. also got a wiretap on Scruggs’ or his co-defendants’ phones, since there are several calls described in the Indictment that don’t involve Judge Lackey. Getting a wiretap on a law firm’s telephone is unusual — particularly due to the substantial and cumbersome minimization efforts required to ensure that calls of clients and lawyers unrelated to the criminal investigation are not overheard.” At the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, columnist Sid Salter has more on co-defendants Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson. A PDF of the indictment is here.
The internal cohesion of the anti-insurer lawyer consortium known as the Scruggs Katrina Group (SKG) appears at present to be under extreme pressure. Rossmiller reports that “policyholder lawyers in general tell me they are seething over Scruggs” and in particular that at least some lawyers who have been his allies “don’t want their names and their cases tarnished with the Scruggs name”. On Thursday an extraordinary contretemps developed in which SKG co-founder Don Barrett of Lexington, Miss. sent a letter (PDF) to a judge hearing Katrina cases against State Farm, suggesting that SKG was being re-formed without Scruggs and would take over the litigation with he, Barrett, as lead counsel (Lattman, WSJ). Within hours, Scruggs had dispatched a letter of his own (PDF) saying that Barrett was misinformed, that it was up to plaintiff families to decide who they wanted to represent them, and that many would undoubtedly wish to retain Scruggs (second posts at Lattman and Rossmiller). As of Thursday evening, the Scruggs Katrina Group website has prominently posted the Scruggs letter but not the Barrett one; one might speculate that if some sort of split within SKG is imminent, the website operation, at least, may have maintained loyalty to the Scruggs side.
On the statewide political repercussions, see Majority in Mississippi, Sid Salter at the Clarion-Ledger, and Chris Lawrence at Signifying Nothing, who also quotes Salter in a comment thread predicting: “The next sob story will be that Dickie’s indictment is about Bush administration persecution of trial lawyers and a rehash of Paul Minor’s problems.” Take it away, Adam Cohen and Scott Horton!
On political repercussions nationally, it didn’t take long for the Hillary Clinton campaign to cancel the Scruggs-hosted fundraiser that was to have been headlined by husband Bill Clinton next month (Associated Press, WSJ Washington Wire). The North Dakota political blog Say Anything thinks politicos in that state should return the (rather substantial) sums they have received from Scruggs and colleagues, but one may reasonably assume that such calls will be ignored, just as elected officials have been in no hurry to divest themselves of the booty collected from such figures as felon/mega-donor William Lerach.
Where are Scruggs’s admirers and defenders? One can only suppose that somber music is playing in the corridors at the business section of the New York Times, which has run one moistly admiring profile of the Mississippi attorney after another in the past couple of years. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, the Times’s very restrained story on the indictment was in a suitably inconspicuous position on the paper’s online business page — the 15th highest story in the left column, in fact. The story, by serial Scruggs profiler Joseph B. Treaster, quotes the relatively ambiguous line attributed to defendant Timothy Balducci — “All is done, all is handled and all went well.” — but omits the far more smoking-gunnish “We paid for this ruling; let’s be sure it says what we want it to say.” And things are anything but upbeat at Mother Jones, where Stephanie Mencimer concedes that she finds the indictment “pretty damning“.
More links: Paul Kiel, TPM Muckraker (indictment “devastating… it doesn’t look good for Scruggs”); Legal Schnauzer (defender of Paul Minor distinguishes the two cases); WSJ interview with Judge Lackey (sub-only) and editorial (free link), Rossmiller Friday morning post (certain details in indictment suggest that a conspiracy insider, possibly Balducci, may have cooperated with prosecutors)(& welcome Instapundit, Point of Law, TortsProf, Adler @ Volokh, Open Market, Y’allPolitics, Majority in Mississippi, Rossmiller readers).
I take a look at the question this morning at Point of Law.
Once among the South’s most financially successful and politically influential plaintiff’s lawyers, attorney Paul Minor was sentenced on Friday to 11 years in federal prison following his conviction in a judicial bribery scandal we’ve covered extensively at this site. Two former judges convicted in the case, John Whitfield and Wes Teel, drew sentences of 110 months and 70 months respectively. Minor’s lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to time served, and supporters had sent letters by the sackful asking for leniency. (“Gulf Coast lawyer Paul Minor gets 11 years in prison for bribing Miss. judges”, AP/Natchez Democrat, Sept. 7; Jimmie Gates, “Minor, ex-judges sentenced in bribery case”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Sept. 7).
Judge Henry Wingate also fined Minor $2.75 million and ordered him to pay $1.5 million in restitution, not quite as telling a blow to his fortunes as one might assume, given that “Minor earns up to $2.5 million a year from a settlement with tobacco companies,” not to mention all the other money he’s made (Robin Fitzgerald, “‘Lady Justice Is Sobbing”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Sept. 8). Minor is also being sued by insurer USF&G, which paid out a $1.5 million settlement to a bank represented by Minor in a case before Judge Teel. (Julie Goodman, “Minor’s legal woes won’t end when he goes to prison”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Sept. 8).
- Resolving dispute over author Pearl Buck’s lost manuscript was easier once we locked the lawyers out of the negotiating room, heirs say [Phila. Inquirer]
- After U.K.’s Channel 4 ran explosive show documenting pro-beheading, anti-Western rants at some leading mosques, government mulled race-incitement prosecution against… the network [Guardian via Reason “Hit and Run”]
- Breach-of-contract claim: 1-800-FLOWERS told his wife about the flowers he bought for his mistress, after promising not to [Lat, Houston Chronicle]
- “What are you going to do about lawyer jokes?” bar association demands of press-agent hopeful [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
- You can buy fake doctor’s excuses on the web these days, not that anyone would ever abuse the Family and Medical Leave Act of course [Associated Press]
- Federal judge flays Qualcomm for “gross litigation misconduct” in defending patent suit, orders it to pay opponent’s fees [WSJ Law Blog]
- Jersey regulators keen to shutter eatery whose cook was dealing cocaine without owner’s knowledge, reminding Ralph Reiland of the fate of a restaurant whose manager “should have known” of sex harassment [Press of Atlantic City; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]
- Dropped out of Congressional race after domestic-violence arrest, now suing former father-in-law for lost salary she’d have earned on Capitol Hill if elected [Dayton Daily News]
- New at Point of Law: Atul Gawande says our malpractice system’s a “disaster”; Katrina canal-breach sense restored; Ohio Supreme Court rules against governor on product-liability veto; Paul Minor sentencing hearing (see also); and much more;
- Sacramento law firm that boasted of women’s advancement was itself a den of sleazy male behavior, complainants say [The Recorder]
- Craigslist roommate classifieds tripped up by “fair housing” law [two years ago on Overlawyered]
- Judge Ramos disallows settlement of Citigroup directors derivative suit: deal had met defendants’ needs, plaintiff’s lawyers’ too, but not shareholders’ [PDF of decision courtesy NY Lawyer]
- Drove a golf cart into the path of his car as it was being repossessed, jury decides he deserves $56,837 [MC Record]
- Per ACOG, 92 percent of NY ob/gyns say they’ve been sued at least once [NY Post edit; more]
- New British online-gambling law could trip up some virtual-world/massively multiplayer online games [GamesIndustry.biz]
- Good news for bloggers: Iowa-based site can’t be sued in New York just because it answered questions from NY reader and accepted NY donations [Best Van Lines v. Walker, Second Circuit; McLaughlin]
- Another great idea from Public Citizen: let’s not use new drugs till they’ve been on the market for seven years [Pharmalot via KevinMD]
- After conviction of Mississippi trial lawyer Paul Minor in judicial corruption scandal, squabbling drags on over sentencing [Jackson Clarion-Ledger]
- Conservative public interest law firms “can win some big cases [but] are notorious for lacking follow-through” [Tushnet, L.A. Times]
- Contestants in Australian business dispute probably wound up spending more on the litigation than had been at stake in the first place [Sydney Morning Herald]
- New at Point of Law: New Hampshire governor vetoes trial lawyers’ bill; global warming litigation to be bigger than tobacco?; the Times notices HIPAA;
- It’s my emotional-support dog, and my lawyer says you have to let it into your store [eight years ago on Overlawyered, before these stories started getting common]
“Attorney Paul Minor, former Circuit Judge John Whitfield and Chancery Judge Wes Teel were found guilty Friday of all charges in a judicial bribery conspiracy.” (Anita Lee, “Guilty, guilty, guilty”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Mar. 31; Jimmie E. Gates, “Minor, 2 others found guilty”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Mar. 31). We’ve been covering this corruption story, which arose from the financial coziness with judges of one of Mississippi’s most prominent trial lawyers, since it broke: see Mar. 16, etc., as well as Mar. 22.
More: Anita Lee, “Hard Time”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Apr. 1.