Scruggs Nation, Day 54

An excellent story in the New York Times this morning by Nelson Schwartz on P.L. Blake’s connections with Dickie Scruggs and how many people who’ve been targeted by Scruggs over the years are now lining up to whack him like he’s pinata.  Click here for a copy of the story (free registration required to read it).  Here’s an excerpt:

Rather than courtroom victories against the tobacco makers, legal experts say, it was Mr. Scruggs’s ability to put together a coalition of state officials and Washington politicians, while adeptly courting the news media, that ultimately forced cigarette makers to pay up in the landmark $248 billion national settlement.

Mr. Scruggs declined to comment for this article. But his lead defense lawyer, John Keker, says Mr. Scruggs was unaware of any bribery attempts and is completely innocent.

Now, the fate of Mr. Scruggs is being watched closely by advocates of tort reform as well as lawyers and industry leaders, who have all found themselves in his cross hairs over the last two decades. “He stands for the proposition that the halls of justice can become the arena for pressing public policy goals,” says David M. Bernick, a partner at the firm Kirkland & Ellis, who has represented the tobacco industry. “People want to know the reality of how he came to be so influential.”

This is natural, and it’s just going to intensify.  Scruggs’ enemies are going to seek to make his name one of opprobrium, synonymous with one who claims to be protecting the public good but instead manipulates and undermines public institutions for his own good and the good of a gang of outlaws and thugs along for the ride.  And they’ll seek to paint the whole big-time tort bar with the same brush.  Remember that interview I gave the LA Times back in November, about how people would begin to re-evaluate how his amazingly successful man got to be so amazingly successful? It’s not such a hard call to make — even though this was before I heard of P.L. Blake or Joey Langston’s confessed involvement in a scheme to influence the judge in the Wilson attorney fees case.  

Back to Blake.  The story mentions Steve Patterson’s plea agreement hearing, where the government said it had evidence Blake served as some kind of intermediary in the Lackey bribery scheme.  While I was out of the office last week, I asked my secretary to get the transcript of the hearing from the court reporter, and it arrived yesterday afternoon.  Here’s a copy, and here’s the relevant passage about Blake (sorry for the small type, but importing from Abobe Acrobat is unpredictable — I think it’s readable enough):

On September 27th, 2007, Timothy Balducci delivered a

first installment, consisting of Patterson Balducci, PLL C ‘ s

$20,000 to Circuit Judge Henry Lackey. On September 28th,

2007 , Steven A . Patterson and Timothy R . Balducci spoke by

telephone; and unbeknownst to either, the call was being

recorded pursuant to Court order.

Patterson told Balducci that his wife had just gotten off

the phone with " P . L . " – – that being known to the Government as

P . L . Blake – – who had just gotten out of the meeting that

Patterson had asked him to have. Balducci asked Patterson to

call P . L . for details. Patterson called back and related to

Balducci that P . L . had in fact met with Dick Scruggs, and "he"

knows it’ s going to be "40. " Patterson assured Balducci that

P . L . was confident that Scruggs would take care of Patterson

and Balducci. "We got your horse sold" or words to that

effect.

On October 7th, 2 0 0 7 , Timothy Balducci called Steven A .

Patterson at approximately 5 :48 p . m . Patterson told Balducci

that he had just talked to P . L . , and that he – – Steve

Patterson – – would be calling "the guy in Oxford tomorrow. "

Patterson assured Balducci that "the guy in Oxford" was

expecting a call. And on the following day, October 8th, at

approximately 8 :17 a . m . , Balducci called Patterson. Patterson

indicated that he was about to call Scruggs.

In a second telephone conversation that same date, Timothy

Balducci and Steven Patterson discussed the firm’ s financial

problems; and Patterson reassured Balducci that, "We’ve got 40

coming from Scruggs" or words to that effect.

On October 10th, 2007, at approximately 8 :55 a . m . , Steven

Patterson called Timothy Balducci and informed Balducci that he

needed to find out when "that order" was going to be signed.

Patterson stated that P . L . needed to know.

Timothy Balducci is expected to testify that on

approximately the 16th of October, 2007, Timothy Balducci and

Steven Patterson were in Oxford to meet with Richard "Dickie"

Scruggs on other matters. When they entered the office,

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs stated, " I know y ‘all have talked to

P . L . , and I ‘ve talked to P . L . Everything’ s fine. Y ‘all are

going to be covered, " or words to that effect. Patterson and

Balducci assured Scruggs that they were there for other

reasons.

Later that day, after leaving the Scruggs Law Firm,

Patterson and Balducci went their separate ways. However, at

approximately 7 :30 p . m . , Timothy Balducci called Steve

Patterson and told Patterson that he had just spoken with the

judge and that the order would be available the next day. It

was actually two days later, on October the 18th, when Timothy

Balducci met with Circuit Judge Henry Lackey, paid him an

additional $10,000; and picked up a proposed order from Judge

Lackey.

In the meantime, a Court-authorized intercept picked up a

phone call from Richard "Dickie" Scruggs to Steven Patterson at

Patterson’ s residence. Scruggs was inquiring about the

whereabouts of Balducci and the order. Patterson assured

Scruggs that Balducci had gone "south" – – meaning to Judge

Lackey’ s chambers in Calhoun County – – but would hand-carry the

order to Oxford. Scruggs told Patterson to have Balducci put

it on his desk and pick up a package which was ready.

Balducci was surveilled entering the Scruggs Law Firm and

leaving Judge Lackey’ s chambers. Balducci left the order and

picked up a check for $40,000, together with documents designed

to conceal the true nature of the payment. On November 1st,

2007, Timothy Balducci made the final payment of 10,000 to

Judge Henry Lackey.

This part of the transcript quoted above appears to validate this paragraph in the Times story:

At his 2004 deposition, Mr. Langston provided what might be a clearer version of just how Mr. Blake fit into Mr. Scruggs’s operation. “I know that Mr. Blake seemed to be Dick Scruggs’s — his switchboard, I call it, you know. Everybody, not everybody, but a lot of people wanted to be involved with Scruggs on tobacco, and I got the impression that P. L. Blake was kind of a filter for a lot of those people. I also got the impression he was Dick Scruggs’s listening post.”

There is a lot, lot more to learn about all this. 

Another story I saw in the Times, from yesterday, is this Associated Press story  about Judge DeLaughter recusing himself earlier this month from a number of cases to, he said, avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Dickie Scruggs was involved in at least one of the cases, it’s not known for sure how many.

 

16 Comments

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16 Responses to Scruggs Nation, Day 54

  1. missmadlaw

    David thank you for your continued good work.
    As lawyers we know the power of precedent. We also come to appreciate the proven methods used time and again by prosecutors in matters like the Scruggs Affair. Though many of your readers are familiar with the Walter Nixon scandal of the 1980s, a brief recount of that matter may shed light on the present investigation.
    Walter Nixon was nominated and approved as a U S District Judge for the Southern District of Miss. in 1968. Nixon became entangled in a criminal investigation involving prominent buisness folks in MS,including his old friend and business partner Wiley Fairchild. I will omit the details of the invetigation as they serve no purpose here. Nixon (like Judge Bobby DeLaughter) was called to testify before the federal grand jury. As a sittting federal judge Nixon felt he could not plead the 5th and he surmised (with the help of his lawyer Bill Goodman) that the best way to face the GJ was not only to appear, but appear and tell all. So Nixon showed up before the grand jury with a prepared statement thinking that he would completely exonerate himself and leave the special prosecutor feeling silly and embarrased for having called his highness in such an unbecoming matter. Of course the problem with that strategy is that Nixon could not control the prosecutor. Once Nixon appeared he was open to a thorough examination touching all of his conduct. As fate would have it Nixon’s lying caught up with him as he denied conspiring with others regarding a criminal matter involving Fairchild’s son. Ultimately Nixon was convicted of perjury for making a false statement to the grand jury. He became the first sitting federal judge to be convicted of a felony and he was ultimately impeached.
    I recount the above as I have grave concerns that Judge Delaughter’s decisions to speak privately with investigators and appear before the grand jury could possibly lead to a bad end.
    I know Judge DeLaughter personally. I would take no pleasure in seeing him go down. He has done good work here. He has earned a good reputation as both a capable lawyer and a fair minded jurist.
    The recent focus by the public here in Mississippi has centered on whether Judge DeLaughter took a bribe. Judge Delaughter’s potential criminal exposure is much broader than bribery. If he, like Walter before him, made any material misstatement to either the investigators or the GJ he could be found guilty of obstruction of justice or perjury. Here’s one possible example: if during either the investigation or GJ testimony the Judge denied communicating with his old friend Ed Peters about the Wilson v Scruggs matter (and why wouldn’t he Peters was not of record in that case)then he’s got a serious problem.
    Again, I hope for the sake of what remains of our judicial system that Judge deLaughter does not go down with this bunch. However, if it can be established that the Judge gave a preliminary draft of his Wilson opinion to Ed it ain’t looking real good.

  2. msbarfly

    you’re back!!! thank goodness…. now we can get some real news….
    sorry we’ve been so selfish while you were sick and all….hope you’re much, much better
    keep up the good work and take care of yourself

  3. amjur

    missmadlaw,
    appreciate your friendship with the judge and maybe nodded off during the history lesson, but did i miss the “if he didn’t do anything wrong” part after hoping “he doesn’t go down with the bunch?”
    Calls to mind a recent quote about Mr. Langston being a monumental loss to the Bar….

  4. M.Williams

    I think that David Bernick’s observation is correct. By using the office of the AG’s office (which may be inferred) to yeild profits from mass torts and pay-out’s to lawyers who purportedly take risks, the political arena changes disproportionately by values scored through the major State elected prosecutorial office. Stop that. Mississippi, Florida, Texas – that was a lawyer’s heist! And as it is, now in Mississippi, you have a pre-paid account for the tort store, and business, whether you like commerce or not, is faced with uneven, often corrupting conflicts. Texas is shameful. Rather than cancer clinics from tobacco spoils, Baylor Law gets an “Umphrey’s building”. Morales was given a work-up but his name is oxymoranic, don’t you think? The truth in the Texas Medicaid lawsuit is simply that, with about 600 AG assistants in 1994, what on earth did Morales need to hire the whole neo-con Baylor University sissy-boys? Six instead of 600 Assistants. Oh, money and power. Not knowledge. Not brilliance. Texas piggy-backed on Mississippi’s unfortunately ill-gotten gains, which at the time were lauded by a quasi popular AG, and stolen proof and stolen information and various high jinks from the entertainment industry – yet, Texas really didn’t have to hire any Umphreys at all. Jes – Texas had enough Assistant AG’s to win another Mexican war. It was money, money, money.
    Now the Times and Blake. Didn’t that seem a little like a soft-shoe routine? P.L. Blake factor is just another assembly of the neo Dixie Mafia, furthering corruption in State law, which, if it’s kept on the books, will invariably lead to more of the same as it already has in the Hood-Langston et al scandals. I think that P.L. Blake, as discovered in the NYT feature, needs definition. I don’t think it’s a big mystery. He’s handing out money. I know that he’s suppose to be political. But what is more important – feeding lawyers. The politics is paid for. What I think is not so apparent is who in Mississippi gets the money – not the old legislatures who passed Moore’s stuff, not the old Newtonians because they’re road-kill, but what’s new in the Blake stuff? It is less reasonable to think Washington’s old bubbling bus-boys than what’s on the present menue – paying lawyers. He’s got the bag. He’s got the money. What’s the mystery?

  5. M.Williams

    PL Blake is a not a listening post. He’s a hitching post. Somebody’s hitching up that old “your horse is sold” to the same old post that’s been around since 1994, and there’s only the Machiavellian commedia (yes, he wrote comedic plays as well) bouf for laughs. This guy isn’t a political wheel. He’s the cash cow. Behold the beuf – your Rolls Royce cow that never gets his hyde stuck to the barbed wire.

  6. msbarfly

    Rossmiller,
    When you get a minute, could you define “bleg?” I forgot it and can’t find your old post about it.
    I think it’s some sort of “blog/beg” hybrid, but not sure what it really means and its appropriate usage. Just a quick example would help.
    Thanks.

  7. Wes

    Great analogy MissMadLaw. The problem with Judge Nixon was not the crime but
    the coverup whereby he impeached himself
    by committing perjury.
    Hope that is not the case with Judge DeLaughter but one has to wonder if he
    crossed the line of judicial impartiality
    with his email communications with
    Langston and his crowd.

  8. High Dudgeon

    I question the use of the term “thugs” to describe participants in this conflict. “Thugs” to me suggests physical violence, which I haven’t seen alleged. Otherwise, the whole bunch of them seem to have set up a system of what back in the Cold War ’50’s we used too call Mutual Assured Destruction – for short, MAD.

  9. Not At All Surprised

    Does anyone know anything about “DMG,LLC” that appears on the “invoice” appearing on the NYT article?
    I believe JUSTUS and I said a few weeks ago that somebody needed to look into the LLCs.

  10. msbarfly

    missmadlawyer,
    I appreciate your friendship with the judge and all; but have you seen page 17, lines 18-20, of the Charge of Information to which Joseph Cash Langston plead guilty? Maybe I’m a just dense, but looks to me as though that e-mail is pretty will established, no?
    I’m not one to wish any innocent man or woman to go down with the bunch, but can’t help but wonder how many layers of proof are requisite in establishing the existence of a document. They taught me the 2-deep rule…you know, like the government having the said document and the accused admitted the existence of the same while pleading guilty to pretty serious felony charges. But, that’s just me and what do I know?

  11. injustice4all

    You are now beginning to understand PL Blakes real role. Now ask yourself why he has not been indicted? If you are a good detective/lawyer you will get it and understand why everyone is wanting to cut a deal.
    I am sorry to inform you this will involve many Judges at both Federal level and state before it is done. Delaughter is first of many.

  12. ramalo

    MSBARFLY
    I don’t disagree. The disclosure of the DeLaughter to Peters e-mail at the Langston plea hearing prompted my initial comment. That e-mail appears to be critical evidence linking the judge to the conspiracy as outlined by the gov’t at Langston’s plea. At this juncture I am unwilling to presume guilt as I have not heard the judge explain why or how that communication occurred. There could be a plausible explanation consistent with the judge’s innocence. If I allow my imagination to roam a bit I can see Peters, the judge’s old friend who is well known to the judge’s staff, calling someone in the Judge’s chambers and gaining access to the draft without the judge’s knowledge.
    Unless the judge pleads I am willing to hear what he has to say before I pronounce guilt. I admit my perspective is likely skewed by my familiarity with the judge. In the end, if he did in fact conspire to defraud Wilson the judge deserves serious time.

  13. msbarfly

    justice4all, just curious as to whether an AG or two look to be caught up in the sordidness…hate to see all these innocent law-abiding elected officials, judges and all take a fall for keeping bad company

  14. msbarfly

    justice4all,
    just out of curiosity, does the word “many” followed or preceded by the word “judge” exclude an AG or two? would hate to see the innocent go down for keeping bad company..

  15. msbarfly

    we all know that judges have their little pets and love to engage in ex parte chit-chat and all; this alleged human filter thing for orders, however, is a new one to me. especially when said alleged filtering human is nowhere to be found in the court file as having made an appearance, real or imagined.
    who knows? maybe it’s local rule 99 or something….
    forgive the poor grammar and all

  16. HDMatthias

    There is NOTHING innocent about Mr. Hood. He is going down, although he’s but a pawn like Fredo in The Godfather.
    Hey attorneys, a question. Sorry if it’s a repeat.
    If Delaughter was offered a bribe, refused it, and didn’t report it, can he be disbarred, removed from office, impeached, and/or indicted? Does he not have legal obligations regarding reporting felonious activities in his court?