By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Jackson Scruggs excitedly anticipates his 10th birthday with his grandfather for the first time in five years.
Monday, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Glen H. Davidson set bail for Jackson’s granddad, former famed Oxford litigator Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs, whose attorneys sought his release pending the appeal of his second judicial bribery conviction.
Dickie Scruggs’ son, Zach, said Tuesday that Jackson is the only one of his children to remember their grandfather outside of prison visits.
“The judge’s decision is probably the first victory we’ve had in five years,” said Zach Scruggs.
Five years ago today, Mississippi’s legal community and Lafayette County generally were shocked by the arrests of the two Scruggses, a law partner and two others.
They were accused of a 2007 conspiracy to bribe Judge Henry L. Lackey, who presided over a legal-fees lawsuit against the Scruggses and others.
Dickie Scruggs, then 61, was best known as a legal wrangler of mega-settlements and mega-legal fees from national lawsuits against asbestos and tobacco companies. At the time of his arrest, he was going after insurance companies for clients devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
By mid-2008, all the Scruggs defendants bypassed trials and worked leniency deals with the government, although Zach Scruggs refused to admit guilt in the bribery scheme. Everyone but Dickie Scruggs served time and moved on in whatever way was possible.
All the defendant-attorneys were disbarred.
Edward Robertson Jr., Scruggs’ attorney, said it’s not yet clear when his client will be released, but the judge ordered Scruggs to post a $2 million bond and report regularly to probation officers after he leaves the Montgomery, Ala., federal prison facility.
Scruggs’ attorneys urged Davidson to release him on bond as his Lackey sentence ends, saying it would be wrong to hold him longer when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals might vacate his sentence and conviction surrounding the improper influence of another judge, Bobby DeLaughter of Hinds County.
In early 2009, Dickie Scruggs pleaded guilty in the DeLaughter case with that sentence to run at the same time as the Lackey sentence, plus a little more.
His appeal insists it wasn’t bribery but legally protected “political speech,” when he offered to suggest DeLaughter for a federal judgeship.
Journalist Curtis Wilkie, who wrote the book “The Fall of the House of Zeus” about the Scruggs scandals, said he’s glad about the Davidson decision, especially since it will allow Scruggs to get surgery for a worsening hand condition.
Tuesday, he reflected on the past five years and the intense legal battles of the multi-defendant case.
“The whole thing is pretty remarkable, considering the personalities in trouble,” Wilkie said. “It’s amazing.”
Wilkie’s amazement comes from the high-profile defendants and others connected this way or that with the story.
Five years later:
• Zach Scruggs recently moved from Oxford to work in Florida, where he’s involved with solar project developments.
• Sidney Backstrom, the law partner, lives and works in Texas, where he moved his family.
• Timothy Balducci, who considered Lackey his mentor and paid then-undercover Lackey $40,000 for help with the Scruggs lawsuit, lives in Monroe County with his wife and twin sons.
• Steve Patterson, the only non-attorney defendant, still lives in New Albany and recently returned from a trip to southern Europe.
• Jim Greenlee, the U.S. attorney in charge of the case, retired and works in private law practice in Oxford.
• Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City retired from the bench but still fills in as a judge in the region.
• Bobby DeLaughter resigned his judgeship, served 18 months in prison and recently was granted early release from probation.
• Trent Lott, Dickie Scruggs’ brother-in-law, was a U.S. senator and spoke with DeLaughter about the federal judgeship. Lott retired just days before the Scruggs arrests and now is a top partner in a high-powered Washington lobby firm.
While his father awaits the 5th Circuit’s ruling, Zach Scruggs ponders his next steps after that panel rejected his appeal.
He did not plead guilty to the bribery scheme but for failing to report that Balducci met illegally with Lackey.
Even though the arrests occurred five years ago, Wilkie says people still ask him about the story, especially about Dickie Scruggs’ release.
“They come up, even people I don’t know, and say they knew so many of the characters,” Wilkie notes.
He terms the saga, not yet over, “an enormous Mississippi drama.”