By PATSY BRUMFIELD / NEMS Daily Journal
Oxford journalist Curtis Wilkie has just released his much anticipated book, “The Fall of the House of Zeus,” which chronicles the rise and ruin of another Oxford resident, Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, and associates around him. Scruggs and four others pleaded guilty to varying crimes relating to the attempted bribery of Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City for his help in a legal-fees lawsuit, Jones v. Scruggs, over Katrina insurance cases. The scandal sent shockwaves through the Mississippi legal community and beyond. He answered these questions last week from the Journal’s Patsy Brumfield.
Q: What surprised you the most during your research for “Zeus?”
A: The scope of the story. What I originally thought might be a book about the investigation and a highly charged trial turned into more of a tale of Mississippi politics, how Dick Scruggs became ensnared in a network of influential peddlers, movers and shakers and fixers who have been doing business in this state for decades.
Q: Was it difficult to write about people you knew personally, some as friends?
A:Almost any journalist is going to be confronted with writing unfavorable stories about friends. I’ve had to do it a number of times. Sometimes you may lose friends altogether or bruise friendships. But usually, if the writer is handling the story as accurately and fairly as possible, the relationship survives. In this case, Dick Scruggs and I continue to correspond. I believe he agreed to talk with me – under no conditions – because he felt if a fuller account of the story were told the public would have a better understanding of how he ended up in the mess he did.
Q: Is there more to write about what happened in this story?
A: There were any number of subplots in the book that could be developed into bigger stories. I chose to concentrate on the Johnny Jones suit and the approach to Judge Lackey in order to keep a strong focus on one case. So Scruggs II, as the prosecutors called it, the case that sent Bobby DeLaughter to prison, does not get a full treatment in “Zeus.” There are other possibilities that I would leave for readers to wonder about. Maybe they would have suggestions. But I have no interest in a sequel, myself.