Scruggs Nation, March 7: the Wilson case lives

I wasn’t sure what was going on in this story in the Clarion-Ledger, something about lawyers for William Roberts Wilson filing a motion seeking sanctions against Scruggs is about all I caught.  So a reader provided me with a copy of the motion filed in Hinds County March 4, and it becomes clearer.  Here’s a copy of the motion.  

Recall that this is the case in which Scruggs’ former partner in asbestos lawsuits sued Scruggs over attorney fees he said Scruggs owed him but never paid.  In that case, Wilson v. Scruggs, Judge Bobby DeLaughter presided, and Joey Langston, who was counsel for Scruggs near the end of the long case along with Tim Balducci, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe DeLaughter with the offer of a federal judgeship.  Balducci, in a February 20 hearing in USA v. Scruggs, testified that he, Scruggs and Langston were in on the bribery plot. 

DeLaughter, by the way, continues on the bench and denies wrongdoing.  Langston, you remember, has said in statements before the court that he edited or wrote judicial orders in the case, and this is the case in which Zach Scruggs famously said you could write briefs on a napkin and the judge would still rule in your favor.  See, for example, this Clarion-Ledger story from January, which contains this paragraph:   

In a May 29, 2006, e-mail obtained by federal authorities, Zach Scruggs told his father’s attorney in the case, John Jones of Jackson, that "you could file briefs on a napkin right now and get it granted." Jones responded in his e-mail, "You have misconceptions about Joey and Tim that I hope ultimately do not need to be explored. … If we win, it will be because the law says we win."

(Langston and Balducci were also acting as counsel for Scruggs in the case at that time).

Two things are amazing to me about the motion: one, that the case is somehow still open, and two, that DeLaughter is still presiding over it.  As the motion says, the second one must be a mistake, because DeLaughter earlier recused himself from any case Scruggs was involved in.  Probably DeLaughter didn’t even know this case was still alive, and I’m having a hard time figuring out why it would be, but it apparently is.  The first paragraph of the motion says that the case "is presently an open case on the docket of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, which has never had any final judgment or order filed closing same."

The motion seeks to have DeLaughter and all judges of the district recused from the case — DeLaughter for obvious reasons, and the others presumably because their fairness would also be questioned as colleagues of Judge DeLaughter, although this is not explicitly stated in the motion.  The motion also says Wilson will seek sanctions against Scruggs in light of the testimony of Balducci and Langston.  I would guess we might also see some kind of action initiated against Langston, who still has a pile of dough. 

The motion is followed by exhibits.  The first is Langston’s plea agreement, and the second is a partial transcript of testimony by Balducci at the February 20 hearing, where he was being questioned by Scruggs’ lead attorney, John Keker. I thought Balducci held up pretty well to some tough questions, see what you think.

UPDATE: Reading through my Bloglines feeds this morning, I saw this post by Jane Genova about an American Lawyer article on Dickie Scruggs.  I’ll check when I get to the office to see if we have a subscription to American Lawyer — working from home, I wouldn’t have a clue if we did or what the online password is — so I haven’t read the story. 

But Genova’s description of its working theory is that Scruggs is an average lawyer with above average entrepreneurial acumen.  That he got lucky with asbestos and then hit the jackpot with tobacco, but he got crazy and tried to touch the sun and, well, you know the rest.  

If I have given a fair approximation of what the American Lawyer story says, this is the wrong theory about Scruggs.  I have heard from a number of accomplished lawyers in Mississippi that Scruggs is no great litigation attorney in the sense of traditional skills.  That does not lead me to the conclusion that Scruggs is not a great lawyer  — to me, a great lawyer is one who gets the results he set out to get.  With one qualifier — within the rules.  To some degree, you look at any part of Scruggs’ career, he was either changing the rules to fit his needs or, some would say, breaking the rules.  The story of Scruggs is not one of a guy who went on one march too far, it’s that of a guy who operated within a system, partially of his own creation, partially adapted from existing structures, that protected and supported his aims, because that system stood to benefit if he did.  How things were done, nobody really questioned that much.

Another thing cannot be overlooked.  Scruggs, better than just about anyone I have ever seen, knew how to play the media. I am sensitive to this because I used to be a professional journalist, and I know from the inside the strengths and weaknesses of media people.  To put it bluntly, he was extraordinarily gifted in coming up with a story line that the media would accept without question, because the reality was too complicated and time consuming for them to get to the bottom of.  Better to take the surface story, which was easy to digest and regurgitate.

That’s only part of the story — the rest will have to wait for my book. Publishers, sounds like a good read, doesn’t it?

 

25 Comments

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25 Responses to Scruggs Nation, March 7: the Wilson case lives

  1. Penreese

    David, I know you have alot of irons in the fire right now, but if you could just give me a minute and tell me how to obtain a signed copy of your book when its published. I would really appreciate it.

  2. Easy, just feed me some really good, verifiable inside dope on the situation in Mississippi, and I’ll make sure to sign your copy.

  3. Assylum Inmate

    Bill Kirksey, who filed the motion to recuse in Bobs Wilson’s case used to practice with Judge Delaughter way back in the day. He is a very capable lawyer and highly regarded as one of the premier criminal defense attorneys in the area.
    For the record, “y’all” is plural. At least in my part of Mississippi.

  4. missmadlaw

    Kirksey has long and deep ties to both DeLaughter and Peters as well as their legal counsel. One has to wonder if Wilson’s legal team is designed to employ these relationnships, and whether the Kirksey relationships contemplates an arrangement with one or more unindicted co-conspirators. Kirksey, who enjoys an excellent reputation for criminal work, has never been condidered a heavy hitter in the civil arena.
    It is at the least curious that Wilson would assemble a legal team including a lawyer who has very significant ties to the very same individuals who allegedly conspired to defraud him. Mississippi is small, but it ain’t that small. Besides, there is a long list of very capable lawyers who would love to get in this thing—there may not be a chance to get in a game like this for another generation or two. It will be fun to watch this play out. I just don’t see Kirksey getting after his good buddies and their lawyers who are also his good buddies. As ya’ll say, something don’t smell right.

  5. jim

    Hell Missmad something has not smelled right for a long time. I only had to read the depositions of Scruggs and Blake regarding Wilson and Luckey to know something was rotten in Rome. $50 million for watching cspan and reading newspapers–give me a break as that is not Dickie’s SOP.

  6. M Williams

    Scruggs and The American Lawyer critique of his skills: on that matter, I guess I should say that, more than any other person, I am certain that I was in a better position to observe the conduit lawyering of Richard Scruggs. I knew him pretty well and record that in a book, published in Brasil and now available. The first articles on Dickie appeared in American Lawyer, and were very brilliant. But this article is more on the spot. When I first walked into his office, he was sort of “silly” with a bit of money, but not a lot, only making a million or so a year. That’s ok. I didn’t soliticit Dickie’s “help”, but Don Barrett knew the score on tobacco – but just a wee bit. He was a warrior. Dickie didn’t have money. He said he would take a 60 ml. a year lawyer paid industry on with his 5 million war chest. (He didn’t know I knew the cartel DID have chump change set aside for his stuff). First, Dickie wasn’t a “smart” lawyer. As my once lawyer, Tom Royals of Jackson said, “Dickie is a businessman who just happens to have a law license.” That’s the thing. He uses people well. He used every possible tool to gather money – the Castano’s, the big firms with baseball teams, – the money. But brains? He was a worker bee. And he was connected two ways – his brother-in-law and a few legislators. He had no problem with being “open”. He was. But he couldn’t, or wouldn’t “try” a case; that was Motley’s stuff. And he used his AG Moore, just as Moore used him. (Moore got paid, it’s just not found yet). I spent countless hours in his office, near him, with him, and getting to know how much he was as a lawyer. First off, let’s thing about this: the Brown and Williamson documents were “stolen” by those gang of 46 that Dickie put together. I didn’t “give” them anything. The book is clear. The law is clear. The ethics of lawyering is clear. But, it doesn’t exactly mean that Dickie is or was a “great” lawyer, because he beat tobacco. He didn’t. If you were the “insider”, who read all those hundreds of thousands of documents, page by page, you knew that the real “endgame” for BAT and the RICO’s cartel [under appeal] tobacco gang, lawyers and lobbyist, et. al, was for “government protection”. Cippallone took over 10 years. And nothing. Mark Edell lost everything, learned nothing. So why did Dickie get it off in a couple of years? Simple. The industry wanted the deal for protection, and they have it. But Dickie – great lawyer? Nah. I like him. I once said to Michael Orey, writing his book about the whole business, “I feel sorry for him,” and Orey thought I was stupid. No. Maybe I was about his “success”. But this Medicaid deal was a favor to the industry. Dickie now has to have the FBI and the IRS do the numbers, and I don’t think that’s even possible because tobacco is so so so smartl. But the history of Scruggs as the American Lawyer writer put it isn’t wrong. Dickie got lucky. Wigand was a godsend, but he was also a very smartly groomed piece of pie. He got lucky with him. He got lucky with Ligget (the store was a “new buy”, and Bennett LeBowe was nobody’s fool). But essentially, you don’t get it if you think this man is anything but a man bound for glory – a businessman. Want a lawyer? Check out Shook, Hardy, Bacon, Vinceny and Elkins,
    King and Spaulding, etc. What you saw in Dickie, I lived – but he knew very little about his adversary, and had no money in April 1994. It’s interesting how he failed to get going – as the article points out – but that’s business for you. If you want, read the book about “early” Dickie and the Mississippi A G “mafia”, Jogando Com a Mafia Do Tobacco,” by Merrell Williams, trans. in Bra. Port., on-line purchase available in the largest “Sao Paulo” and “Rio” area – in the “rich South” now, only there. And David – this isn’t too “hot” for a defendant firm blog, is it? You’ve bumped me quite a few times, but I don’t mind. I just wonder why. I simply agree with the lady who wrote the American Lawyer article, because it’s true.

  7. bothered

    Mr. Williams: is it true you received money from Dickie through Julie Ardoin’s firm in New Orleans?

  8. Nomisss

    Re M. Williams :Well, David, you asked for some really good inside dope, didn’t you? Is it verifiable?

  9. missmadlaw

    The odors I refered to in my previous post involve the Wilson litigation. These odors pale in comparison to the stench surrounding Scruggs Langston et. al. I am truly amazed that Wilson has a legal team with such close ties to his adversaries-folks who allegedly conspired to do him in–smells worse than rubber burning.

  10. Bothered

    kirksey was associated in the federal court action in 2003. His association had nothing to do with the state court case. It is a matter of reported case law that kirksey believed and tried to get the matter resolved in federal court. So put up or shut up about kirksey. Sounds like to me you are just looking for a job. Why don’t you try oxford, umatty.

  11. M Williams

    David, an apology. You did not and have not wronged any comment from me, and I did make a terrible mistake and ask all who read that – I was wrong; he did not skip over a comment. That’s it.
    Continue to wonder the whereabouts of the interrogatory “is it true that you…” I love that stuff. Whomever you are, don’t be bothered by that nonsense – it’s probably in a deposition in Brown and Williamson vs Merrell Williams, M&S Enterprises, John Does 1-10. I don’t actually remember the words, Mr Williams, is it true that… but the tone is funky, but what is the point? I took the heat for Dickie’s bumpkin’s in almost every deposition that King and Spalding tossed at me, and I have loving memories – feel it like the “Stockholm symdrome”. Goodness gracious me. It is an anthem. The answer is probably yeah, but the real question is who did or did not pay the firm in question?
    I was a salary, tax-paying guy and worked (or call it what you will) for peanuts.
    I wouldn’t pick on a poor little firm like you mentioned above. But if you’re looking for blood, I was in the ring with the lions and barrons of lawyering -and it was a strange feeling of defending the creeps who were working so hard at running away.
    I was the lawn caddy. Yes, Gordon. No, Gordon. I know Dickie or Mike or Don or – well, who would you imagine those “Does” were anyway? They didn’t eat grass. They were Attorney General “special Assistants.”
    Isn’t that also about the same thing, if not the same thing? And none of them had to answer any depositions – again, my point, don’t catch them – please!
    The deal was to show defeat but look who won? I like your question. It does remind me of my endless depositions from the great civil lawyers at Spaulding.
    Only problem, they didn’t know how to ask a question of the real parties – M was Minor and S was Scruggs, an unregistered “entity”, and the Does – how about every AG but Humphrey of Minnesotta?
    I got the question, and the answer is why is the question asked now? That WAS a question I fielded for Don, Dick, Paul, Mike, and the rest of the “phantoms”….curious thing…tobacco lawyers never pursued this beyond “me”. They could have.
    But that wasn’t the cartel drill. They WANTED to lose. That’s why today – and I want to stress this – that is why all that big money that went to all the AG’s “States” built so many hospitals, wards for dying people, medicine for pain in lung cancer and breast cancer victims, and –
    – hold it. Just where did that first hospital rise from the ground? Venture a guess. Baylor Law School? Ole Miss Dorm or Trent Lott’s “House of Conservativism”?
    Don’t you get it? Even great litagtors -know what was going on – the very awesome David Bernick – one of the best lawyers I’ve ever seen work a judge in D.C. Court – remarkable cross of Kessler, the former FDA boo-boo.
    But what is this yawn again question about? A small firm? Peanuts?
    Tobacco litigation was about losing to the Plaintiff and to gifting to the Plaiintiff lawyers – and hiding what the A G’s got out of it and where it is today – you see it. See sealed “arbitration decisions” open records? You wish…!
    Hood is close. More is closer. If you digress, Bothered, look at the big picture. What was the first “tobacco cured” hospital that was built from Medicaid Master Builders?
    That firm -ask Don Barrett that question – he was Mr. Butts, but he wasn’t deposed because – well, that’s a good one – bring me another.
    I love it. I’ll bother you some more. Love to help bothered people who like “deposition” questions.
    I did say I liked Dickie – I did. But Dickie never took depo’s. None of the Federal case did. So why do you reckon I was there? I can assure you it wasn’t about a little Louisiana law firm pay roll.
    I fielded dozens of depositions in Dickie’s place – but that’s a silly question. But another please.
    What is it somebody wants to verify? Gimme. Love to see daylight.

  12. MORE COWBELL

    David, what a book you and Williams could write! Go rent The Insider. It does make you wonder why only Wigand got a movie. MW is ready to talk, and with recent events, . . . well, it’s fascinating stuff.

  13. bothered

    not to make trouble for any small firms in Louisiana, but because i was the victim of a huge similar money laundering scheme by the same parties you mention and was looking for similar instances, that’s all. not trying to depose you just looking for an honest answer to verify a pattern i am trying to establish.
    thanks and good luck

  14. Cowbell,
    A colleague of mine recently rented The Insider and gave me a report on it, all I remember of his report was a description of Dickie Scruggs flying his plane in a kind of Superman-esque scene, which may simply mean my colleague is not the world’s greatest storyteller. Or it could mean the movie is not going to be my kind of thing. But in any event it didn’t create a lot of desire for me to hit the order button on Netflix. I could be wrong about the movie, but generally I’m not partial to movies about lawyers because generally speaking I don’t like lawyers and would rather spend my time with other kinds of people.
    As for the book, well, I wish I did not have to write it, because I would rather practice law and see my family, but somehow it just feels like I’m gonna have to do it.

  15. bothered

    Mr. Williams: thank you for the response. i was not trying to depose you but to simply ask because i was the victim of a similar money scheme on a much smaller scale by one or more of the same parties you mention.
    good luck to you, sir.

  16. bothered

    Mr. Williams: one more if you please; i’m “bothered” by this question. were there kickbacks to tobacco company execs? if so, was that done through a biloxi casino?

  17. Nomiss

    Mr.Williams, this is fascinating stuff, indeed.

  18. M.Williams

    Bothered: can’t imagine how such a thing happened in the Dixie Mafia…gosh, I flat out forgot hi-way 90 leads to New Orleans…Truth is hard to find in the spilled waters of the past, but don’t be bothered, as many deals unknown to me, but leaving me cold for Mike Moore’s protection, as the highest officer in the State, were steered by Charlene at Dickie’s nod.
    I’m not surprised you have a wet head from the mouths of the gargols above you, as this WAS and IS “club” law as practiced on that long highway. And don’t think I really have anxst about being deposed by someone. Gordon Smith deposed me 40 times and I had to run from one state to another to catch his billable hours.
    I welcome any question about the craftsman who worked the tobacco deal, but Dickey didn’t have the mind or the facts, and he certainly didn’t have the law, so you have to guess a lot. Dickie doesn’t do the laundry. His specialist sends it to the cleaners. She’s been with him for years. Lots of homegrown Mercedes Benz will keep the laundry moving on the roller at the cleaners.
    I rode both shotgun and driver on the Medicaid wagon. Dickie and Don protected poor Mike Moore. Moore made a “deal”. I understand that. But I don’t understand why Moore got so many hours gathering money for lawyers in foreign states – like Louisiana. Ask Moore. Call Charlene in Gautier. Sweet as a potato (e or not?)
    This is not an illusion. You got into a chorus howl with the Dixie Mafia, not the Dixie Chics. Sorry about that. There’s more classic stuff. It is essential that you know the lyrics to “Anything Goes”.
    And loss is part of highway 90. If you try to understand the “Mississippi lawyers and the Medicaid Master Settlement”, a lot of the chum was kept away from the public, especially that which both tobacco and the Attorneys-General’s wanted to “work” – and there’s a lot of yesterday in today.
    I don’t see a froghair difference between Mike Moore and J. Hood. It’s the wheeling and dealing from hiway 90, which, I think, leads to that firm you spoke about.
    Lost your shirt? I’d say you can find Charlene’s dry-cleaners in Gautier. Is she flying a jet from Oxford now? Got to believe there’s a plan. If you got in now, you might get to ride with Charlene Bosarge. True blue. No color fade there.

  19. Nomiss

    Mr. Williams, Are you implying that D. Scruggs is affiliated with the Dixie Mafia? I’ve never heard that before. You imply that Charlene launders money for Scruggs. What money and why? Does she play the same role as P.L. Blake?
    As for your statement, “Dickie and Don protected poor Mike Moore.” Why did Mike Moore need to be protected? From whom or from what? How did they protect him?

  20. bothered

    Mr. Williams: so the craftsman was who?
    did the tobacco execs get kick backs?
    was that done through the casinos?
    and what was pl blake’s role?
    how did moore get paid and where is it?
    what did hood have to do with it.
    thanks.

  21. bothered

    Mr. Williams: so the craftsman was who?
    did the tobacco execs get kick backs?
    was that done through the casinos?
    and what was pl blake’s role?
    how did moore get paid and where is it?
    what did hood have to do with it.
    thanks.

  22. M Williams

    NOMISS: Absurd notions. There’s not a bit of fact in your suggestions. In fact, it’s totally taken out of context.
    The man was asking about a lawyer’s check – jes – don’t put this into your sue the bastard bucket. Put that pen down right now.
    [When you can read Portugese, we’ll talk.]

  23. Nomiss

    Mr. Williams, Sorry I took things out of context in your post. I’m just confused. And I assure you that I’m not interested in suing anyone. I don’t have a dog in this hunt, but I do find it interesting. Wish I could read Portugese.

  24. M.Williams

    Wish I was a free man too.

  25. Nomiss

    Mr. Williams, I wish you were a free man too. I’m sorry you got left in the cold, but I suppose Mike Moore has/had a public political career that needed to be protected.