Scruggs Nation, the Reckoning: Dickie Scruggs pleads guilty

Well stay on this post all day and update. Look for the latest information at the top (I got chewed out by readers last time I did this for putting the new updates at the bottom).

Welcome L.A. Times readers!

TWELFTH UPDATE:  Ive read through the Scruggs plea transcript posted below, and he wasnt exactly brimming with remorse.  Heres what I mean:

THE COURT : Mr. Scruggs, you have heard the United States Attorney state what evidence he could present against you on this particular charge if the case were to go to trial. Do you agree with the prosecutor s summary of what you did?

MR . KEKER : Your Honor, could I interrupt to say that much of the prosecutor s summary – – we discussed it – – is based on discovery and information that we have learned during the process of preparing this case. We believe – – and I ve discussed with Mr. Scruggs – – that the prosecutors could prove what they say they are proving. Much of that is, as you know, based on testimony of people and under circumstances where Mr. Scruggs was not there and doesn t have firsthand knowledge of it. But we agree that that s what they can prove, and that that s an adequate factual basis for the plea.

THE COURT : All right. Mr. Scruggs, then, did you do what the prosecutor just said you did, as far as your acts in this charge are concerned?

THE DEFENDANT : I joined the conspiracy later in the game. It s not exactly as the prosecutor allocuted, in that there was no intent to bribe the judge; it was an intent to earwig the judge, Judge Lackey; and that that – – the earwigging idea was not originated by me or anyone in our firm, although we went along with it, at the beginning of – – sometime in March. 

THE COURT : Well – –

MR . KEKER : But then later – – what about later? You got to say something about later.

THE DEFENDANT : I did join the conspiracy after that.

THE COURT : So you agree – – are you telling me that you did join the conspiracy, and you did furnish some money to give to Judge Lackey in return for him issuing an order in your favor in this case? Is that what youre saying? Do you disagree with that?

THE DEFENDANT : That s what I m saying.

THE COURT : All right. The Court finds , then, that there is a factual basis for this defendant to plead guilty to this charge. Richard Scruggs, do you plead guilty or not guilty to Count 1 of this indictment?

THE DEFENDANT : I plead guilty, Your Honor.

Lots of new terms in the Scruggs matter — sweet potatoes, earwigging, etc.  Earwigging means "To influence, or attempt to influence, by whispered insinuations or private talk," according to this online source. 

ELEVENTH UPDATE: A reader alerted me to the fact that the WSJ Law Blog had posted transcripts of the plea agreement proceedings today, but that the links were broken.  So I took a chance and called the court reporter, who was kind enough to send them to me.  A very nice lady.

Here are the transcripts, I want to get them up right away.  Ill comment when Ive read them.

Scruggs plea transcript.

Backstrom plea transcript.

Hearing on Zach Scruggs motion to dismiss.

TENTH UPDATE:  Ive seen a variation of the lede in this Clarion-Ledger story in several others today: "surprise plea agreements."  Surprise to whom? If youve been paying attention to the evidence as it was revealed, you saw that the governments evidence was very strong.  And if you knew that the government had huge leverage over Dickie Scruggs because his own son was indicted as an alleged co-conspirator, you would know as Ive been saying for quite a while, that Dickies choices were bleak, and swinging for the fences at trial could result in his son doing a lot of years of hard time, as well as ensuring he himself would never walk this Earth as a free man again.  I figured pleas would come either late today after the latest motions were turned down, or Monday, the last day to submit plea agreements to the court.  For quite a while Ive been saying to folks who e-mailed me about attending the trial that I doubted there would be one, so its no surprise to me or others who were watching closely. 

NINTH UPDATE: This motion was filed by the government today.  It asks the courts permission to turn over evidence gathered by the FBI "taint team" — a team that separately analyzed data like computer files copied from the Scruggs Law Firm during the November FBI raid — to the federal prosecutors in the Scruggs case.  From this motion, we learn that this information was turned over to the defense team just yesterday — the timing of the pleas could have had something to do with the evidence.  

EIGHTH UPDATE: Roger Parloff of Fortunes Legal Pad

SEVENTH UPDATE: Check out Walter Olson at Overlawyered for more news and links.

SIXTH UPDATE:  This has got to be kind of like getting a paper cut after youve lost your legs, but in another matter, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Scruggs petition for a writ of mandamus against Judge Acker, in the Renfroe v. Rigsby civil lawsuit in federal court in Alabama.  Scruggs sought to have Acker removed as a judge from the case, saying he was biased because he had referred Scruggs for criminal contempt of court in the case. 

Heres a copy of the 11th Circuits order.

FIFTH UPDATE: Just got a moment to link to the documents.

Dickie Scruggs plea agreement.

Backstroms plea agreement.

Factual basis for Scruggs plea agreement.

Factual basis for Backstroms plea agreement.

FOURTH UPDATE: A story by Richard Fausset of the L.A. Times, with an interesting quote from attorney James Robie.

"You know, Ive spent hundreds of hours letting that issue marinate, because it boggles my mind," said James Robie, a Los Angeles attorney who is representing dozens of Katrina-related cases Scruggs clients brought against State Farm Insurance. "I believe he became completely intoxicated by power. . . . And hes so avaricious that hed often tie in with it, How many millions can I rake in? Just because it was a game."

Fascintating, but I dont think Scruggs became intoxicated by power, as one would normally understand that phrase.  I think he — contrary to the perception of him as a gambler — was someone who showed a proclivity and a talent for arranging things, when he was able, so that it was a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation.  Sometimes he had enought juice to do that, sometimes he didnt. 

Also, I occasionally get people saying to me, stop kicking Scruggs, you dont kick a guy when hes down.  Two things.    First, if we cant collectively condemn judicial bribery and all its implications, and examine how far this pattern of conduct reaches, if we cant defend the institutions that protect us, we are not worthy of survival.  Second, unlike many, many others, I kicked Scruggs when he was up, too.  

THIRD UPDATE:  Heres a story from the ABA Journal, with a lot of good links, and unfortunately, a very good profile story that was superseded by events today.  But hey, Scruggs happens.

SECOND UPDATE: Heres the word from ICLBs confidential correspondent at the courthouse this morning:

Sentencing in 30-45 days.

Before the hearing, DS and Backstrom sitting in the gallery. DS hugging people who spoke, shaking hands, talking. DS sitting next to wife before hearing started. Backstrom did not have a wife at his side when sitting in the gallery waiting for proceedings to start (at which time both he and DS moved to the defense table). Sat with DS and DSs wife before moving to defense table.

Judge annouced that Backstrom and DS changing "not guilty" plea to "guilty" as to count 1 (conspiracy to attempt to bribe…)

Both Backstrom and DS plead guilty to count 1 of the indictment. Max sentence is 5 yrs. No recommendation for DSs sentence. Backstrom recommendation in his plea agreement that his sentence not exceed one-half of DSs sentence.

Counts 2-6 will be dismissed for each.

DS represented by Keker. Dawson for gov. DS was very stoic. Answered judges questions clearly; talked clearly, understandably, loudly; otherwise completely motionless. This plea has no effect on the Wilson investigation. DS pled first. then left the courtroom, glanced in direction of his wife. His wife followed and then returned for Backstroms plea.

Backstrom – represented by Tannehill and Trapp. Backstrom agreed that he did enter into a conspiracy but did not assist in "furnishing monies." He indicated (when asked by Biggers who provided the monies) that his law firm did. Trapp and gov quibbled a second or two about the word "corruptly" in front of "influence" – it was Trapps understanding that "corruptly" would be removed. The gov indicated that is had been removed from the first paragraph, only because the gov (Norman for gov) didnt feel it was worth arguing about. Biggers asked if he understood that the acts of one co-conspirator are attributed to all. He said he understood. Throughout, Backstrom was quiet, reserved. entered plea and then asked to say something. Said he apologized to the court, his family. Began sobbing. Stated that he had made some of the worst decisions of his life in this matter, and that he accepted responsibility. Biggers responded: "Your apology is on the record. No doubt you made some awful decisions."

Both DS and Backstrom remain on their original bond.


UPDATE: Backstrom too. No word yet on Zach, I just heard from someone at the courthouse for the hearing on Zachs motion to dismiss, apparently as of this writing (9:25 a.m. Pacific time), the hearing is still going on.


I started hearing strong rumors of a plea agreement this morning, and it turns out to be true.  Heres a breaking story from Holbrook Mohr of the AP.  More to come later.  Also, let me be the first to point out — apparently it wasnt Too Dumb For Dickie.   

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