By Patsy R. Brumfield
OXFORD – If you ever see the movie, “The Insider,” you'll see the story of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand and his great difficulties in blowing the whistle on the world's second-largest tobacco company about the health hazards of smoking.
The man who legally helped Wigand get his message to the world: Richard “Dickie” Scruggs.
The man who risked his job to make the documentary for CBS/60 Minutes: Lowell Bergman.
Wigand and Bergman are among 248 letters to Senior Judge Neal Biggers asking for leniency when Scruggs stands before him Friday to be sentenced for pleading guilty to trying to bribe a judge.
Among others expressing their concern for Scruggs and/or his co-defendant, Oxford attorney Sidney Backstrom, are Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, former Gov. William Winter and Backstrom's wife, mother and grandmothers, as well as bon vivant yatchsman Dennis Conner and just regular ole folks who know both of them.
Scruggs, perhaps the most famous plaintiff' attorney in America, and Backstrom face prison time and fines connected to their scheme for a favorable ruling in a $26.5 million Hurricane Katrina insurance-case legal fees lawsuit. They pleaded guilty to one count May 14.
Backstrom also will be sentenced by Biggers on Friday in the U.S. District Courthouse.
A Bergman comment: “Without Mr. Scruggs, the revelations that appeared in court proceedings and the media about the tobacco industry, as well as the unprecedented settlements, simply would not have happened.”
From Wigand: “When I first learned of the issue that has caused Dickie's current situation, I was shocked as well as others that know or have worked with him. How could a man with such a strong moral fiber err like this? It was not in his moral and ethical fabric that this could be. He is a good man, an intrinsically honest lawyer, and a true friend who has made a mistake.”
Backstrom's wife, Kelli, whose letter appears first in a ringed binder of letters supporting him, says this:
“I cannot sleep at night thinking of this whole situation and how Sid will sit before you, with his future in your hands, and your honor only knowing the details of this ONE lapse in judgment. I cannot put into words what we have been through over the past several months, but I do feel it has served as a form of punishment for all of us.”
Scruggs' lawyer son Zach will be sentenced by Biggers on July 2. He pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which means he knew a crime was being committed but he failed to report it.
Read more about the letters in Thursday's Daily Journal.