By Patsy R. Brumfield
Six years ago today, federal authorities swooped into Oxford and arrested Dickie Scruggs and four others on charges they attempted to bribe Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey of Calhoun City.
Scruggs wound up in federal prison a few months later, never to practice law again. While he serves his remaining time he is staying focused on his post-release plan to help Mississippians pay to take the GED.
Lackey was presiding over a lawsuit against Scruggs and others in 2007 about legal fees from Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.
At the time, Scruggs was one of the country’s most famous litigators, having negotiated massive financial settlements against asbestos and tobacco companies.
Ultimately, the defendants in the judicial bribery case pleaded guilty to varying levels of involvement and went to prison. Everyone but Scruggs has served his time.
He was sentenced to five years, which he completed earlier this year.
But additional time was tacked on for his guilty plea in an alleged scheme to improperly influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in Hinds County, where DeLaughter presided over another fees lawsuit against Scruggs.
Scruggs was at home in Oxford as his second conviction was appealed. But when it failed, he returned to complete that sentence in Montgomery, Ala.
He’s due to begin preparations for release this spring and ultimate release in September.
In the shadow of a disgraceful anniversary, Scruggs admits he’s gained some new perspectives and he’s determined to pursue his idea of helping Mississippians pay to take the GED. The cost rises from $70 to $120 next year for the high school equivalency credential.
Earning the GED, the 67-year-old Scruggs said, “signifies that you are determined enough to raise yourself up.”
While an earlier plan to pay 1,000 Mississippians to take the test before the standards changed in 2014 faltered because of prison-related restraints, the pieces are in place for such a push when Scruggs gets out of prison.
Dr. Andrew Mullins in Oxford, former assistant to now retired University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, said he made contact calls for Scruggs about the project and received universal enthusiasm for it from the Mississippi Department of Education to Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community and Junior Colleges Board.
Scruggs said in an earlier interview with the Daily Journal that his prison contacts with so many men in need of completing their secondary educations had brought him to realize how important the GED is to improve anyone’s economic situation.
“This will be my calling,” Scruggs said.
While Scruggs makes plans for his involvement with education programs, his co-defendants have gone on with their lives, too.
His son, Zach, was the last to plead guilty, not to the bribery scheme, but to knowing but not reporting it.
These days, he and his family are settled in Florida, where he works in the solar energy industry.
Their former law partner, Sidney Backstrom, and his family relocated to Texas.
Two others maintain their Mississippi ties.
Steve Patterson, a former state auditor, continues his business pursuits from New Albany, where he and his wife make their home.
Timothy Balducci, who became the government’s key witness against everyone else, initially went into hiding but now lives with his family in Monroe County, where his wife has ties.
Judge DeLaughter, who never admitted he was bribed, served prison time for lying to the FBI and reportedly returned to his Terry home after his release in 2011.
Judge Lackey retired from elected office but continues to preside over cases as a senior judge.