Monsanto v. Scruggs: Defense wants mistrial over 'criminal' remarks to jury

Attorneys asked for a mistrial Thursday in a lawsuit that could destroy the agricultural businesses of Mitchell and Eddie Scruggs.

Ag giant Monsanto wants $10 million in damages from the Lee County Scruggses and associated enterprises for their admission they replanted the company’s patented seeds.

The courts have upheld Monsanto’s right to control how the seeds are used.

The jury trial began Monday in Greenville before U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. It’s on the schedule for three weeks.

Wednesday, Pepper denied the defense’s oral objections and mistrial request, which said Monsanto’s attorneys’ repeated and “inflammatory references” to crimes and criminality during opening statements has tainted the jury’s ability “to consider this case fairly.”

But Thursday, the Scruggs legal team officially filed a motion for mistrial, saying Monsanto’s counsel has referred to Mitchell Scruggs as a “thief,” as someone who “stole” Monsanto’s technology, as a “crook,” and as someone seeking an “alibi.”

The motion also says Pepper admonished the jury that no crime is involved in the case.

“It is so rare to observe references to crime in civil cases,” it says, apparently seeking to explain why there may be little legal authority about the issue.

This legal battle has been going on since Sept. 7, 2000, Monsanto sued Scruggs; his brother, Eddie Scruggs; and five of their business operations.

Monsanto sought to stop the Scruggses from saving and replanting patented seeds.

Ultimately, across years of legal wrangling all the way to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and back, the defendants admitted what they had done.

Now, Monsanto wants financial damages for what’s been done.

But Jim Waide, one of Scruggs’ attorneys, says Monsanto wants its pound of flesh to make an example of the Lee County ag business.

Monsanto wants to crush them, Waide said last week, before the federal trial to establish what the Scruggses owe.

• Read Friday’s Daily Journal for more.

Patsy R. Brumfield/Daily Journal