Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, third from left, enters federal court in Oxford, Miss., on Friday with with his attorney John Keker, left, his son Zach Scruggs, second from left, and wife Diane Scruggs. Dickie Scruggs was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to bribe a judge. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)
Patsy R. Brumfield
OXFORD – Famed attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs will spend five years in prison for his part in conspiring to bribe a judge.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Neal Biggers Jr. on Friday sentenced Scruggs to three years of supervised probation upon his release from prison, and ordered him to pay a fine of $250,000, due in 30 days.
Scruggs asked serve his prison time at the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, Fla. Biggers, who will recommend that facility to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, ordered Scruggs to pay for the costs of his incarceration, which are unknown at this time.
As Biggers was speaking to Scruggs in the packed U.S. District courtroom, Scruggs almost fainted while standing and a chair had to be brought out for him.
Biggers also told Scruggs, “Balducci said you know where a lot of bodies are buried. You might help yourself if you talk about that.”
The judge was referring to Timothy Balducci, a former New Albany attorney who also was charged in the bribe attempt.
Scruggs, 62, is the first of five co-defendants to be sentenced in a scheme for a favorable ruling to divide $26.5 million in legal fees connected with Hurricane Katrina insurance-case settlements.
He had asked for leniency – no more than 30 months – based on his defense team's contention the “benefit” of the bribe was only $50,000, not the millions the government said the bribe was worth to him compared to fees he might have lost going to trial in the case. He also said his ailing wife, Diane, needed his care at home.
Nov. 29, Scruggs was indicted on six counts of conspiring to bribe Circuit Judge Henry L. Lackey of Calhoun City, who then was presiding over the legal-fees lawsuit, Jones v. Scruggs et al. Attorney Johnny Jones contended he had been shortchanged by Scruggs and others involved with Katrina lawsuits against insurance companies.
Also indicted were Balducci, Scrugg's lawyer son Zach, their law partner Sidney Backstrom and former state Auditor Steven Patterson of New Albany.
Backstrom is scheduled to be sentenced at proceedings beginning at 2 p.m.
Before Scruggs knew what hit him legally, Balducci had been caught on voice and videotape trying to bribe Lackey and became a government informant weeks before they were arrested. Patterson pleaded guilty several weeks later and also began to cooperate with the prosecution.
Through months of sophisticated legal wrangling by some of the nation’s best defense attorneys, the two Scruggses and Backstrom maintained they were innocent – that Balducci was the plot’s originator and the one who negotiated the bribe.
But by late spring, their case began to lose its stamina, and when the government announced plans to bring in witnesses to show this wasn't the first time Scruggs had bribed a judge, the cards began to fall.
March 14, Scruggs and Backstrom pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment. A week later, Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
It's a virtual certainty the three will lose their licenses to practice law. A Mississippi Bar spokesman said earlier this week he will head straight for the state Supreme Court with disbarment motions the minute he gets certified sentencing orders – maybe later today, but surely by next week.
Zach Scruggs' sentence hearing is set for July 2.
Mississippi legal system-watchers think Balducci and Patterson, as well as disgraced Booneville attorney Joey Langston, will not be sentenced until the government is through with them in investigating Langston’s allegations he helped Scruggs, Balducci, Patterson and former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters to bribe Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter for favorable rulings in another legal-fees case, Wilson v. Scruggs et al.
No one besides Langston has been accused officially in that case. DeLaughter insists he has done nothing wrong.
Come back to djournal.com for developments. Read Saturday's Daily Journal for more information.