OXFORD – A 15-year-old lawsuit that brought down a judge and several prominent Northeast Mississippi attorneys came to an end Thursday, for the most part.
Wilson v. Scruggs – with at least three incarnations in three different courts – in 1994 accused then-lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs of Oxford of not paying attorney W. Roberts Wilson Jr. of Jackson some $15 million he claimed he was due for work on national asbestos litigation.
By the time the lawsuit came to federal court in Northern Mississippi earlier this year, its demands had snowballed into a mathematical treasure chest. Wilson insisted his asbestos fees were used by Scruggs to bankroll the massive national tobacco lawsuit, which yielded some $1.43 billion in attorney’s fees.
And Wilson also wanted the actual damages tripled, along with punitive damages, interest and other fees, because of Scruggs’ criminal activity in two judicial bribery cases. Scruggs is in a federal prison serving time for guilty pleas in those cases.
Wilson, who now lives in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said only, “My lawyers did a wonderful job.”
The lead attorney, Charles Merkel of Clarksdale, was more specific.
“We’re in the process of wrapping it up against the Scruggses and their companies,” he said late Thursday. “Justice was finally served.”
Defendants in the latest incarnation also included former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters, former state Auditor Steven Patterson and former New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci.
In a case prosecutors dubbed “Scruggs II,” they admitted conspiring to bribe then-Hinds Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, Peters’ former colleague presiding over the first Wilson v. Scruggs.
While Peters got immunity for cooperation, former Booneville attorney Joey Langston admitted his guilt and is serving federal prison time. Patterson and Balducci are in prison for guilty pleas in “Scruggs I,” a conspiracy to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City in another legal-fees lawsuit against Scruggs.
Wilson did not sue Langston in the newest civil case because Langston made financial amends to Wilson before the suit was filed in Oxford, and Peters apparently settled with them recently.
“I’m very optimistic about coming to terms soon with one more defendant,” Merkel said late Thursday. “About another, I really don’t know.”
Patsy R. Brumfied/NEMS Daily Journal