This is a great, great post by Roger Parloff at the Legal Pad blog at Fortune/CNN.com. It’s an interview with John Jones of Jones, Funderburg, the firm that sued the Scruggs Katrina Group over division of $26.5 million in attorney fees. In that case, of course, Dickie Scruggs and others allegedly tried to bribe the judge to transfer the case to binding arbitration, after the SKG had earlier rejected Jones’ demand for arbitration before he sued. The question has always been, if Scruggs actually did this, why would he care about compelling arbitration enough to risk a bribe? Parloff’s interview has some answers, from Jones’ perspective.
Accordingly, if prosecutors hope to persuade a jury that Scruggs did play a role in the bribe, they’ll have to take a stab at that difficult question: Why? Answering it will be all the more challenging given that the ruling Scruggs was allegedly purchasing from Judge Lackey was simply an order sending the case to binding arbitration. Such an order, in and of itself, wouldn’t even guarantee Scruggs any victory in the underlying dispute.
One possibility, of course, was that Scruggs was also planning to bribe the arbitrator, too. But that’s speculative, and certainly no one’s produced any evidence supporting such a theory.
But another possibility, suggested by Jones, is that sending the case to arbitration — which is ordinarily conducted confidentially rather than in a public courtroom — would have at least shielded the dispute from public view. In that sense, Scruggs might have seen arbitration as a victory in itself.
“Mr. Scruggs would’ve been, in his public persona, highly offended by those allegations” being aired in public, Jones says. “He has almost an obsession with image in the public.”
Jones opposed arbitration after the case was filed not only because it included non-contract claims such as breach of fiduciary duty, but for this reason:
“I wanted a jury to hear it in Dickie’s backyard,” Jones says. “I wanted to ‘out’ this a little bit. I’d known he’d done this repeatedly to other lawyers, he and Barrett. They got them to do the work, but when the money came in, they’d just low-ball ‘em.”
Read the whole thing, as they say.