Scruggs Nation, Day 22: the Renfroe v. Rigsby disqualification motion

I wanted to bring you up to speed on the Renfroe v. Rigsby case, the one where E.A. Renfroe & Co. is suing the Rigsby sisters for breach of their confidentiality agreements in giving State Farm claims documents to Dickie Scruggs, who apparently passed them around to the Scruggs Katrina Group and other policyholder lawyers like a bottle of cheap wine at a frat party. This case, you may remember, is the one out of which the prosecution of Scruggs for alleged criminal contempt of court arose.

On November 28, attorneys for the Rigsbies filed a motion to disqualify Judge William Acker from the case, saying his impartiality was compromised in light of his appointment of special prosecutors to go after Scruggs. Here is a copy of the supporting legal memorandum. A very interesting point in the brief: although Scruggs is not the sisters’ attorney for purposes of defending this case, he has agreed to indemnify them for attorney fees and damages they may be assessed because of the case.   

Here is Renfroe’s brief in opposition to the motion to disqualify.   And here is the item that interests me most, an order from Acker, following a hearing on the motion to disqualify last week, that says the court neglected to ask when the Scruggs indemnity agreement was made, and giving the Rigsbies until December 21 to respond.  I could make various guesses based on what facts I know, as I’m sure you could too, but I’m just going to wait and see what the answer is.

I don’t know what the proper analysis is for the Rigsby motion.  I once had a case in federal court where the judge, a few weeks before trial, on my motion fined one of the defendants $25,000 for violating a court order, then much to my chagrin recused herself.  Turned out all right.  The trial was held as scheduled, the judge we got was equally good, and we won the case in a bench trial.  Judge Acker’s action in the Renfroe case, however, was not against a party or even the party’s counsel, but an attorney who represents the Rigsby sisters in another capacity.  The Rigsby argument is that there is such an identity of interests, and that actions in this civil case may reflect on the criminal prosecution, that Acker either cannot be impartial or there is the substantial appearance that he cannot be impartial.  What do you think the right answer is?

UPDATE: As Justus pointed out in the comments, far more cogently than I did in this post, the point of Judge Acker’s query is that the supposed indemnity agreement must be in writing to be enforceable under the Statute of Frauds. So he wants to see written evidence of the Rigsby agreement, leading one to suspect that he suspects there is no written contract.   

 

 

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Scruggs Nation, Day 22: the Renfroe v. Rigsby disqualification motion

  1. Justus

    Judge Acker is no slacker. From reading Judge Acker’s Order of December 17, linked above, it certainly appears that he knows “who’s on first”, and he is better at the “shell game” than Scruggs and his attorneys ever dreamed.
    It proves to be very interesting when someone outsmarts himself – paints himself into a corner, so to speak. There is no good response for Scruggs to the Judge Acker’s request for information about the “date” of a “written indemnity agreement” between Scruggs and the Rigsbys. I’ll bet that Judge Acker is pretty good at the game of chess. To me, Judge Acker’s Order says, very loudly, “CHECK”.
    Justus

  2. Ironic

    Top Rigbsy Sisters responses when asked by a Judge to produce their agreement with Mr. Scruggs within three days:
    10. It was stolen during an FBI raid
    9. Shhh, Hey Scruggs, what should we say?
    8. Sorry, its privileged and confidential
    7. We gave it to AG Hood
    6. A giant windstorm blew it away
    5. We are whistleblowers, we do not have to disclose that
    4. We sold it to PL Blake
    3. We need more time, we have to go through 15,000 pages to find it
    2. Judge, sir, by any chance do you need a loan?
    And, the number one reason…
    1. My dog, Renfroe, ate it

  3. MORE COWBELL

    This is too funny? The Statute of Frogs, from first year contracts. Been practicing 35 years have hadn’t heard the term since 1L. (Professor Harry Case). Besides, everyone knows an exception to the writing requirement of a surety is admission by Scruggs under oath that he did agree to pay the atty fees, OR through performance such as paying all the whistleblowers attorney fees throughout the depositions/Ala. hearings. Scruggs did the same for Wigand in the Big Tobacco Wars.
    Your move, Andy.

  4. Thick

    Hey Ironic. The top reason the Rigsbys won’t produce the agreement with Scruggs?
    1. The agreement was blown away by wind, but also damaged by water and the wind damage was indistinguishable. An engineer was hired by Acker to inspect the document, but Scruggs paid the engineer to reflect there never was an agreement to begin with. Trent Lott adopted the Rigsbys and they continued to receive payment in the guise of an allowance. Jim Hood ran for and won Trent Lott’s vacant senate seat and there are currently no insurance companies operating in the State of Mississippi…private or federal. And to all a good night.