Y’all have been tearing up my inbox with observations, ideas for follow up and tips on this amazing story, and I greatly appreciate this. Keep it coming. Always feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if it’s really urgent, call me at 503-961-6338 (confidentiality guaranteed, and those who contact me could tell you that this is true, except for, of course, the fact that you don’t know who they are because of that confidentiality thing). I am working on some posts having to do with this story, but today my day job, family matters and the need to get some sleep preclude me from finishing them.
However, others have been riding this story hard, and among the most outstanding efforts are those of the Wall Street Journal. Peter Lattman has been reporting from Mississippi this week and producing some really good stuff, putting thoughts into my head that if my kids were on Christmas break right now I’d get my family on a plane for the Magnolia state and live blog this sucker for a couple weeks. Here is a story by Lattman and Paulo Prada about a big party Dickie Scruggs had on Saturday (subscription required).
For those who have been wondering who Timothy Balducci is, this story has some good information, including this:
Mr. Balducci, 40, came to know Mr. Scruggs during six years, ending about a year ago, when Mr. Balducci worked for the Langston Law Firm in Booneville, Miss., according to the firm’s lead lawyer, Joseph "Joey" Langston. In that time, Mr. Balducci helped defend Mr. Scruggs in at least two lawsuits, both brought against Mr. Scruggs by lawyers previously associated with his firm. In both cases, the lawyers were suing over the distribution of attorneys’ fees from cases handled by the Scruggs firm. Mr. Balducci made court appearances and signed legal pleadings in both cases, and met with Mr. Scruggs many times on these matters, according to a person familiar with the cases.
"Tim knew Dick and they were friends — they’d eat lunch and dinner together," said Mr. Langston. "When he left our firm, I think Tim [Balducci] was anxious for his relationship with Dick to be much, much better and he wanted to be as close to him as he could get."
Mr. Langston is now helping represent Mr. Scruggs against the criminal indictment. He added that he "would be very surprised to learn, when the investigation is complete, that the men in the Scruggs firm had any knowledge whatsoever that Mr. Balducci was going to pay money" to the judge.
"This is a clear case of a young man wanting to endear himself to Dickie Scruggs in hopes that he might one day have a chair at his table," says Lowry Lomax, a close friend of Mr. Scruggs who is also an Oxford plaintiffs lawyer and was the co-host of Saturday’s Christmas party.
Yesterday, at Mr. Balducci’s office in New Albany, Beau Buse, listed on the firm’s Web site as an investigator, wouldn’t open the front door to speak with a reporter. Through the glass window he said, "We’re going through a lot of issues right now." No one answered the door at Mr. Balducci’s home. A neighbor said no one had been there for a more than a week.
There is also this eyebrow-raising paragraph:
As for the man considered Mr. Scruggs’s chief accuser — the considerably less-well known Mr. Balducci — many people in these parts are contemptuous. "He has some sort of complex," said Deborah Patterson, the wife of Steven Patterson, Mr. Balducci’s business partner, who was also indicted in the case.
Is it just me, or is it kind of creepy that Scruggs is partying and Scruggs’ friends like novelist John Grisham are going around saying Scruggs couldn’t have possibly participated in this alleged bribery scheme — see this great post on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog where Lattman interviewed Grisham — while folks walk around considering Balducci as some sort of illegitimate spawn of Hitler for participating in something they otherwise claim didn’t happen. You know, I think this is the time for Mississippi AG Jim Hood to stand up, show some leadership and defend the honor of the man he appointed as "special assistant attorney general." But Hood’s whereabouts these days, like those of Balducci, don’t seem to be known. Maybe one of these days we will have another Hood sighting.
Further, on the subject of Balducci, I can offer this item from Sid Salter’s blog at the Clarion Ledger. It also has information on alleged co-conspirator Steven Patterson. True, it is somewhat one-sided, in that the information was taken from the bios of Balducci and Patterson that they wrote themselves, but for what’s it worth, there it is. I read the bios fairly closely, and it appears at least one major point was left out — that Patterson’s wife believes Balducci "has some sort of complex," as noted above. One wonders how she felt about her husband partnering up with a man who has "some sort of complex," and how much she protested doing business with one who had a complex, but — and I’m just thinking out loud here — perhaps this complex was suspected but not completely apparent until after people began saying Balducci has turned state’s evidence against her husband. Likely that helped bring these alleged character flaws into clearer focus.
Someone also pointed out to me the ironic item below that is posted at Tim Balducci’s website.
Yes, many of these tools and instruments of justice are things we wouldn’t want to touch, which is why the FBI uses those handy touchless body mikes.
Before moving on to the last item, I wanted to point out this Anita Lee story in the Sun Herald on the Jones v. Scruggs lawsuit. It has some interesting details, give it a read.
Lastly, I would like to return to the Lattman interview with Grisham. I’ll list some of the Q&A below. The questions are in bold and Grisham’s answers follow, and I give my comments in brackets and italics.
What do you make of the indictment of Dickie Scruggs?
My initial reaction was one of surprise. I know Dickie Scruggs. This doesn’t sound like the Dickie Scruggs that I know. I was really shocked by the news. When you know Dickie and how successful he has been you could not believe he would be involved in such a boneheaded bribery scam that is not in the least bit sophisticated. I don’t believe it. I hope it’s all proven to be wrong.
[What is he saying, that we should expect Scruggs would only be involved in a super-sophisticated bribery scam? Would that be where, say, Henry Kissinger delivers the money instead of Tim Balducci?]
It’s a big story.
Well, because of his willingness to take on big cases he has become noted, famous, and successful as a trial lawyer and never shied away from politics. You add that together and you become a big target and people like to see a big target go down.
[And I say thank goodness for this human characteristic — if powerful people didn’t pick on each other, they would be completely invulnerable because we small fry would have no chance of taking them down. And what’s worse, if they weren’t preoccupied with targeting each other, they would have even more time to target the rest of us!]
What do you think of the charges in the indictment?
I know what the basic allegations are. I read the indictment. As a former criminal defense lawyer, I started thinking about how I would defend it and started looking for gaps and holes.
Did you find any?
It’s only one side of what happened. There’s a whole lot more to the story. One thing is that there are a lot of recorded statements in the indictment but none from Dickie. There are no allegations that he delivered cash or was part of it.
[Translation: I found no gaps or holes].
But the prosecution must have evidence that is not reflected in the indictment, too.
I was in law school with Jim Greenlee (the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, the prosecutor who brought the case against Mr. Scruggs.) He’s a man of integrity and a good prosecutor and he’s not going to reveal everything. Jim and I started and finished law school together and practiced in the same small town (Southaven, MS).
He’s a good, steady prosecutor, but I also anticipate a very vigorous defense.
[Translation: I found no gaps or holes].
The trial will be closely watched.
In a situation like this I’m always reminded how quickly we abandon the presumption of innocence. There’s always such a rush to judgment. It makes a fair trial hard to get.
[Translation: Probably no one else will be able to find any gaps or holes either].
That’s it for this post. See you tomorrow.