FBI searches office of Katrina lawsuits lawyer

OXFORD – Federal law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday searched the law office of a high-profile lawyer who represents hundreds of Gulf Coast homeowners with lawsuits against insurance companies in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.

At least seven FBI agents and federal prosecutors were searching the Oxford law firm of Richard “Dickie” Scruggs for a document that could have an “ancillary” connection to Katrina insurance litigation, a lawyer representing the firm said.

Joey Langston, who represents Scruggs' firm but is not an employee, declined to elaborate on the nature of the document but said authorities were not likely to find it at the office.

“We're as confident as we can be that this is nothing more than the federal authorities acting on information that will prove to be inaccurate and untrue,” Langston said.

Scruggs and his son and law partner, Zach Scruggs, were surprised by the search but were “cooperating 100 percent,” Langston said.

The FBI said in a statement from its Jackson office that the warrant was issued “in furtherance of an ongoing investigation,” but it did not elaborate.

Langston said the search warrant was issued out of the northern Mississippi district of U.S. District Court and doesn't appear to be linked to criminal contempt allegations Scruggs and his firm face in Alabama.

In June, U.S. District Judge William Acker in Birmingham, Ala., ruled Scruggs violated a court order to return documents given to him by two sisters who helped State Farm Insurance Cos. adjust claims on Mississippi's Gulf Coast after Katrina.

After U.S. Attorney Alice Martin declined to prosecute Richard Scruggs, Acker appointed special prosecutors for the case.

However, all federal judges in northern Alabama have agreed to disqualify themselves from the case because they are Acker's colleagues. An appeals court in Atlanta is expected to appoint a new judge to handle the case.

Scruggs has made millions of dollars in tobacco and asbestos litigation. He was one of the private lawyers who represented Mississippi when the state sued tobacco companies during the 1990s.

After Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, Scruggs sued State Farm and several other insurers on behalf of hundreds of homeowners who challenged the companies' refusal to pay for damage from the storm's rising water.

Scruggs is the brother-in-law of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who announced Monday that he will resign from office by the end of the year after 35 years in Congress.