Scruggs Nation, March 17

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If you missed my post from yesterday, go back and read it, its got a roundup of some of the Scruggs stories of note, some stuff about Jim Hood, some Katrina litigation stuff — it took me some time to put it together, so I hope youll find something you like. Ill talk about a couple stories here that I didnt include in that earlier post. 

One is this story in the Clarion-Ledger [originally had the wrong link, now fixed] in which John Jones, formerly part of the Scruggs Katrina Group and whose attorney fee lawsuit against Scruggs and the SKG firms gave rise to the Scruggs bribery conspiracy, says he was completely shocked by Scruggs plea agreement.  I myself dont think it was very hard to see coming at all.

But this part of the story was curious to me, so much so that I read it twice:

Although he was a millionaire, Scruggs saw himself as a champion of the little people, Jones said. "Dickies emotions were all on the ends of the hairs of skin. He was the most sensitive guy about his own self-image."

As Scruggs once said in describing himself, he wanted to be one of the ones who killed the rhinoceros, "not just be one of the scavengers who ate the meat," Jones said.

In 1998, he bagged the biggest rhino of all, the tobacco industry, earning the largest civil settlement in U.S. history. Scruggs and that case were portrayed in the 1999 Russell Crowe-Al Pacino movie The Insider.

When two of Scruggs former law partners sued Scruggs, Jones became one of his defense attorneys.

"I became convinced he was a really good guy who was being shaken down by others," Jones said. "He was a great client and did everything we asked him to do."

In 2005, Scruggs went to trial in one of those lawsuits.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis awarded Alwyn Luckey $17 million for legal fees due from the asbestos litigation.

Jones viewed the ruling as a victory since he had successfully protected Scruggs interests with regard to any legal fees earned from the tobacco litigation. Luckey had argued in a second lawsuit that he was entitled to a portion of the tobacco fees because asbestos earnings helped fund the tobacco litigation.

Scruggs saw the defeat as a sour loss, Jones said. "He thought he couldnt trust the system."

From that point forward, Scruggs changed the way he operated, Jones said. "He always had to rely on some inside connection when he didnt need to."

Now, come on here, with all due respect, Scruggs "thought he couldnt trust the system"?  He got nailed in the Luckey lawsuit for holding back on a partner.  What does it mean, under those circumstances, to say "He thought he couldnt trust the system"? He lost a fair fight, so he decided — as Joey Langston and Tim Balducci have testified — to make his own unfair system?

And if so, how much different in concept is that from the way he conducted the tobacco litigation — having P.L. Blake run around doing Lord knows what to earn his millions, making use of insiders stealing documents and mixing law and politics like a well-shaken martini?  Its time to take that standard profile of Scruggs and round-file it.  Lets admit that prior conceptions and explanations of the man were woefully wrong, lets admit that many or most of the people closest to him were the most wrong about him, and lets start again from scratch. Throw away all those newspaper and media stories sucking up to Scruggs, and lets start anew.  I dont say the man is all bad, far from it, I find many things about him to admire.  But now maybe both the good and the bad will get a hearing — one where someone hasnt put the fix in. 

The second story is also from the Clarion-Ledger.  Im going to criticize this lede and second graf:

Dickie Scruggs, the Oxford attorney who grew up poor in Pascagoula, had it all – the opulent private jet, the shiny Bentley, the 120-ft. yacht, the vacation home in Key West, reputed legal fees earned of nearly $1 billion and a reputation as one of the most respected and most feared trials lawyers in the world.

But on Friday, Scruggs was reduced – apparently by his own inexplicable greed – to just another felon copping a plea bargain in front of a federal judge. Scruggs pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers of conspiring to bribe a state Circuit Court judge with $40,000 in cash in exchange for a favorable ruling in a case over disputed legal fees.

First, what private jet is not opulent by any normal definition of that word? I mean, maybe the private jet of a Saudi prince is markedly more well-appointed than some corporate private jet, but in any meaningful sense, isnt ownership of a private jet itself one of the indicia of an opulent lifestyle?

Second, the juxtaposition of the list of the Magnificence of Himself in the first paragraph with the guilty plea by Fallen Scruggs in the second appears designed to support a "why would he risk it all on something like this" storyline.  But what if all that stuff in the first paragraph came his way because of activities that bear many similarities to the activities in the second paragraph?  The story doesnt consider this.

Third, if Scruggs is indeed "one of the most respected and most feared trial lawyers in the world," why didnt the Clarion-Ledger devout more resources to covering the case against him? Sounds like a criminal charge against a big shot like that in a newspapers own back yard would be worth a heck of a lot more coverage than we saw.

On a somewhat different topic, I want to provide a description of the courtroom before the guilty plea from a reader who e-mailed me about it (dont freak out, all you e-mailers, I asked permission to use this):  

 It was quite a show. I found it remarkable that he was politicking and socializing with everyone just prior to the hearing.  Dick was on the prosecution side of the seating area shaking hands and speaking to folks like a politician.  Keker was in the seating on the defense side of the courtroom with Diane and called out to him "Dick" and motioned him back to his seat with his head rather firmly, in my opinion. He did not try to shake my hand thank goodness.  I doubt he knows who I am but chose to not make eye contact with him because I felt like that would bring him over. I had no clue what was about to happen and a chill ran down my spine when I heard the judge say that he had two plea agreements.

I find these first-person narratives of events so much more compelling than the typical inverted pyramid, dispassionate news story, dont you?  Im pledged not to say more about this persons identity, so well just leave it at that. 

Lastly, thanks to the citizens of the Scruggs Nation for keeping me company these past few months.  Thanks for the e-mails of support, and a special thanks to all those who provided information and tips.  Ive gotten to know a lot of people really well through this blog, I count many as friends.  Life never ceases to amaze me, how exactly I got in the middle of this, I dont think I could tell you.  To be honest, I didnt really want to do it, this Scruggs blogging, but Im the kind who believes in omens, and in a way I really havent been able to explain to myself, it seemed like this was the role that had fallen to me and it was what I had to do.  With all the people Ive met, Im glad I did it, and something tells me Im not quite done yet.

We began this post with a time-honored icon, the shamrock, and well close it with a new one, the sweet potato, forever to be remembered as the symbol of the Scruggs Nation.  Ill tell you what, I dont ask for much, but if any of you are good at sewing and could slap together a Scruggs Nation sweet potato flag, Id fly it proudly in my office for evermore. Im thinking the most appropriate background color would be green, the green of a $40,000 bribe.   


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