USA v. Scruggs (‘Bama version) is dismissed, case closed

Here’s a pdf of the judge’s order.  More when I have a minute to read it.

__________________

UPDATE: I read it, and all I can say is thank goodness, it has been a long time coming — finally, a case where the criminal justice system doesn’t railroad a famous, rich, white guy!  Famous rich friends of Dickie Scruggs — it’s party time!

Although the judge did allow that it might have looked bad that Scruggs defied the terms of the injunction, Judge Vinson cited two reasons why the charge of criminal contempt could not stand against Scruggs:

First, the court had no jurisdiction because Scruggs was not active in the Renfroe v. Rigsby case — he was the Rigsby sisters’ lawyer in another capacity. 

Second, Scruggs did not violate the injunction because of its "law enforcement exception."

About the first reason, what a relief to know that one can escape any punishment merely by not being the attorney of record in a case — it is so much better to pay someone else to be the attorney of record, and sit back and actually pull the strings while taking none of the heat! 

About the second, this is also good to know — that an exception that allows the parties to cooperate with law enforcement, also will allow a guy the judge just said isn’t affiliated with the case or representing any party to "cooperate" with law enforcement by using the very documents that are the subject of the injunction to play keep-away.

All in all, a good day’s work, and a vindication of the principles of playing games with judicial orders.

One final thing — you remember how these documents were supposed to be sent to Hood under the "law enforcement exception" so they wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands and hurt Hood’s grand jury investigation?  How soon we forget.  Look at Hood’s press release from when the settlement with State Farm was announced in January 2007, the settlement where he agreed not to prosecute the insurer:

"After months of heated negotiations, I am happy to announce that our office has reached a settlement agreement with State Farm in our state court litigation,” said Attorney General Jim Hood.

Months of negotiations?  Let’s see, the documents were sent to Hood in mid-December 2006.  Well, then . . . I guess, just maybe, protecting the grand jury process wasn’t really the motive for sending the documents after all.  Why not?  For starters, let’s remember that we’ve heard some substantial evidence that, about this very time, Scruggs was pressuing Hood to drop the criminal investigation so State Farm would settle civil cases with Scruggs. 

 

41 Comments

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41 Responses to USA v. Scruggs (‘Bama version) is dismissed, case closed

  1. Beau

    Scruggs needs to fire Keker on the MS indictments against him and use his Alabama attorneys instead (that is assuming they are different attorneys as I think they are). Seems like he is getting a hell of a lot better results from the AL case then the MS one, and the stakes are a lot higher in MS.

  2. Speechless...

    Just can’t believe this…..

  3. Seacrest

    It’s interesting this judge notes that there is a cloud of suspicion
    “there is a cloud of impropriety surrounding what Scruggs did and the nature of his eleventh hour arrangement with Hood.

  4. Anderson

    “About the first reason, what a relief to know that one can escape any punishment merely by not being the attorney of record in a case”
    I don’t think the sarcasm is called for. Either Scruggs was an attorney of record in the case, or he wasn’t. If he wasn’t, then how surprising is it that he can’t be cited for contempt in that case?
    I mean, if the judge got the law wrong, say so. If not, don’t snipe at the judge.
    Similarly, it does seem that the order was worded (badly enough?) that the handoff to Hood fell within the scope of the order. Given the great likeliHOOD this would happen, maybe that should’ve been drafted better?

  5. Ironic

    Word games my friends. If a judge ordered me to return documents, I would. Period.
    Now, if I were a billionaire lawyer supported by superstar lawyers, then I may consider playing keep-away. Instead of following the common sense reading of the ruling, I would give the stolen documents to my friend, who happens to be a law enforcement official.
    The law enforcement exception is now a major loop-hole in my mind. The local cop is, literally, a law enforcement official, right?
    Secondly, that Scruggs is not “legally identfied” with the Rigsby’s in this case is a joke, IMO. Technically, I am not a lawyer, and thus will not get into the legal word games. In my simple mind, Scruggs was, and is, joined at the hip with the Rigsby’s.
    How about the MS judge who shot down Scruggs 5pm depo start time? When Scruggs took the 5pm too literally and defied the common sense reading, the judge stepped in and said “cut it out”. Stop playing games and get in there for your depo.
    Can this decision be appealed?
    A rich guy gets off on a technicality. If Scruggs were an 18 year old unemployed kid with a history of being in trouble, would the court system work so hard to dismiss the case?
    How ironic.

  6. Anderson

    “If a judge ordered me to return documents, I would. Period.”
    Well, heck yeah, I would too. But we’re not talking about an ethical lawyer, we’re talking about Scruggs.
    The narrower question however is, was it contempt of court? And until someone shows me what Judge Vinson got wrong, I’m going to infer that it was not contempt.

  7. MSlawyer

    I believe this ruling will embolden Dickie in the Mississippi prosecution.
    If I were Hood, I think I might feel as if the doctor said, “Well, Jim, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to amputate both of your legs. But the good news is, your flu test came back negative.”

  8. mac

    I wonder if Ed Peters can escape punishment by not being an attorney of record in a case?

  9. MORE COWBELL

    I am outraged! Isn’t this Judge from Lecky King’s hometown? Serves Hacker, I mean Acker, right for putting the law enforcement proviso in his order. Maybe next time he will read it. Alice did.

  10. WOW

    I am in total shock. The sarcasm is not only warranted, it should be encouraged.
    I can hear the Scruggs defenders amping up the rhetoric now.
    Seems like Alabama is simply taking a powder….

  11. injustice4all

    Guys, he is going to jail for at least 6 years probably more like 8. I agree with you defense guys 1000% on this one. It was sleezy, but at least he didnt bribe anyone like usual.

  12. Tim

    Be fair now, I am not a Scruggs defender by any means, but this was a “criminal contempt” charge, I agree with the Judge’s reasoning. As the law enforcement exception, I don’t interpret the order that way, but its vague enough where it might not be “criminal contempt”. I wouldn’t have done what Scruggs did either way. As Judge noted it certainly could be an ethical issue and was questionable conduct, but doesn’t make it a crime. The bribery case is totally different. Let’s not let our “bias” about bribery case impair our analysis of the Judge’s ruling in the “criminal contempt” case. Gov’t may appeal, but I hope not.

  13. bellesouth

    Well, I guess it just goes to show you can’t trust the judges, you can’t trust the lawyers and you can’t trust the prosecutors. It certainly looks like everyone but the insurance companies are crooks. The insurance companies are really out for everyone’s interest as long as the legislature, the insurance commissioners, the judges and the lawyers don’t stand in their way. Thank goodness we have insurance companies.

  14. snafu

    Interesting to hear that Scruggs was not an attorney of record. So then all the arguments of privlege should not be upheld, right? Help me lawyers. I thought Sid proclaimed throughout the depositions that Scruggs Law Firm objected to the Rigsbys answering questions about conversations and meetings with Scruggs because it was privleged information between an attorney and his client. So the Judge ruled that Scruggs Law Firm was not an attorney of record despite depositions peppered with statements from Scruggs Law Firm attorneys saying that they were the Rigsby’s attorneys. Huh?
    Situation Normal: All Fouled Up

  15. Seacrest

    I’m again puzzeld about something.
    Hood said in his SF deposition that he considered SF and Renfroe connected at the hip and that is why he didn’t want the documents to be turned over to Renfroe, SF controlled Renfroe and housed their documents, he believed.
    He said he didn’t want SF to see the docs because he didn’t want them to be able to see the questions the AG office would ask of who? The grand jury?

  16. Letters

    To the original poster, who sarcastically wrote: “what a relief to know that one can escape any punishment merely by not being the attorney of record in a case.” Well, uhh, that’s not what the judge said. He did not hold that Scruggs could escape “any” punishment; the issue was more narrow than that. He held only that Scruggs could not be in CONTEMPT because he was not a participant in the civil case AND because he acted independently and for personal benefit. For that conclusion, the judge only cited to a dozen or so cases, including a few from the Supremes. If you disagree with those cases or analyses, state your reasons. If not, what’s your point?
    And you next imply that the order is inconsistent because it held that Scruggs could claim the “law enforcement exception” even though he is “a guy the judge just said isn’t affiliated with the case.” There is no inconsistency. The second holding was reached only because the judge “assumed” for the sake of argument that Scruggs was indeed affiliated with the case and bound by the injunction.
    I’m not trying to be a jerk, but seriously, did you even read the opinion?? If you did, you didn’t do so carefully. It’s one thing to not like the end result (I don’t either). But the legal analysis appears to be pretty solid. Overall, I think the judge got it right.

  17. Oaege

    BS, a crook is a crook, whether an attorney or a businessman or a street criminal. The FAR majority of insurance executives and adjusters, attorneys, judges, heck, even blog posters are honest and honorable people. But I do think Dickie’s gonna have a tougher time enabling a technicality in his Mess In Mississippi.

  18. doug

    Belle I am highly offended at your repeated and continued jabs that the entire insurance industry is crooked. I have worked in the industry 15 yrs and I am very proud at how I have helped people recover from the unexpected disasters from burned houses to deaths of family members. Every claim has been paid in full with no issues.
    You are using a small area and relative small amount of claims and applying your brand of delusional reasoning to brand the entire industry. Keep in mind the State Farm issues involve less than a 1000 claims. I would guess that they have more than a 1000 claims filed every day nationwide that get solved just fine with no issues. So if we look at the total amount of claims you are using less than 1% of all claims to make your decision. This is like calling a presidential race when only one state has voted.
    I am very sympathetic to the people that truly do have an issue and I feel very sorry for these people. I was in the gulf coast area 1 week after the hurricane, so I have seen the devastation first hand. I also feel sorry that when they were offered a chance to review their policy with their agent, they probably said “No thanks, we’re good” I offer 100% of my clients that opportunity every year and less than 1% ever want to meet with me. So buyer beware.

  19. David Rossmiller

    Re “Letters”: I see from your IP address you are new here. Seriously, try reading a few other things I’ve written on this prosecution, I’ve covered it longer and written more on it than anyone out there. Seriously, have you read anything else I’ve written? Seriously.

  20. Ironic

    bellesouth, what is your connection to hood? to me, you seem like a hood apologist.
    come clean if you so choose. I will respect you and your posts more if I have context. Right now, your hidden agenda is not so hidden.
    Thanks,
    Ironic

  21. bellesouth

    I have absolutely no connection with Hood. Our circuit clerk had been indicted for embezzeling funds and the judge had let him go. A year later, he was still up to his old tricks and Hood brought the charges back up. The judge sentenced the clerk to 2 years suspended. It was before the election and everyone blamed Hood. I thought that was weird. Then when Haley broke the law and set the special election for Trent’s spot to November and Hood filed suit against him, I became more interested because everyone was saying that the law ambigous. I am a paralegal (Tulane University College) and can read the law and it was anything but ambiguous. I didn’t even know what Hood’s position as AG meant before then, but from researching all I found were these baseless accusations and innuendo into everything the guy did or said. I was appalled. I find out that Sid has been talking about the same thing against Hood for 4 years. The guy just got re-elected so these attacks on Hood seem to be all about politics and sour grapes. That is all. Of course, Scruggsmania set in and Alan Lange and everyone is trying to implicate Hood and I am like “What?” What did he do? How was he supposed to know these guys were crooks. All I see is mean and hateful remarks that are designed to ridicule. No substance whatsoever. Right now, Sid, won’t talk about his republicans — Wicker who gave his campaign contributors $6 million to a company of 45 people who donated to a lobbyist that hired Wicker’s COS. He won’t talk about Trent who made a phone call on behalf of his brother in law who was supposedly trying to bribe a judge. Oh no, Hood, who hasn’t done anything illegal is beaten up everyday because he is a democrat.

  22. Natchez Knows

    Ironic, I think the more apt question is, what is bellesouth’s relationship to Courtney Schloemer?

  23. John

    OK, so judges are appointed to federal posts through recommendations of Senators. You think there are not “favors” to be returned by these judges? Or favors amongst Senators (say a Senator Shelby to Senator Lott) to be repaid through rulings by judges appointed by other Senators – a simple phone call to express how “it would be helpful if….” could set it up.
    No jurisdiction? Doesn’t that box get checked off REAL early on – like day one. “Okay, no jurisdiction….case dismissed”. But in this scenario – the case proceeded for quite a while before this conclusion was reached. Not to mention that the rest of the logic seems odd as well – I wouldn’t think anyone has right to defy an order from a judge on a case.
    Makes me wonder if a “favor” was repaid. Can it be that this sort of thing happens ALOT – and this would explain why federal judgeships are so hotly debated in the Senate before they are confirmed? If so then we can understand why they are such powerful positions where elected officials can wield certain power to influence judicial rulings.
    Certainly only speculation – but, to a degree, isn’t that what we do here?

  24. WOW

    To Natchez Knows: That last comment was spot on and top notch.

  25. some lawyer

    A lot of the commenters here don’t seem to understand that the judge was talking about in personam jurisdiction, not subject matter jurisdiction.
    And no, I don’t agree with Judge Vinson’s ruling. But seriously, the non-lawyers on this blog need to shut up when opining on legal issues.

  26. fromadistance

    High school teacher here. Kid Scruggs’ excuses and whining about how I hadn’t been specific would be answered with “You knew what I meant and didn’t do it.” This jr. high word game wouldn’t fly in my class much less my house. This works only when I’m afraid of the Momma.

  27. nmisscommenter

    Couple of things:
    Someone up there said Scruggs should fire Keker and hire his Alabama lawyers. Keker is the lawyer that won for him in Ala. Keker in fact did a good job in the motions hearing in Oxford. He’s playing the hand he was dealt in each case.
    I’m not as sure as folks here the judge was wrong to dismiss the case. First, the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) matters. Second, the two issues he centers the decision on (Scruggs wasn’t in court and the law enforcement loophole) are really problematic.
    I don’t doubt for a minute Scruggs was playing games with the court. if I were the special prosecutors I’d be seriously looking at whether to appeal. OTOH, I think the judge’s decision was a closer call than most here acknowledge.

  28. Seacrest

    This is semi off the topic, but I am spending time to wade through all the volumous postings (so I feel foolish for my previous comments and questions) but on Feb. 19th the blog host wrote about a State Farm brief in the KLG matter
    here is an excerpt in a link on the post:
    “-The company has reasoned in the case McIntosh v. State Farm that the SKG’s decision to pay the Rigsby sisters, Kerri and Cori Rigsby Moran, $150,000 salaries as litigation consultants constitutes bribery. The Rigsby sisters copied 15,000 pages of State Farm confidential documents while working at E.A. Renfroe and Co. and turned them over to Scruggs, who then gave them the jobs.
    In State Farm’s reply to the response from the KLG, the company says the focal point of its argument is Ford.
    Ford is a former engineer at Forensic Analysis and Engineering Corp. who performed the analysis of the McIntoshes’ home and kept a journal that has been submitted as an exhibit. Scruggs offered Ford indemnity, a $10,000 monthly retainer and a percentage of each settlement work for the SKG to become a “fact witness” and “consultant” on a case, State Farm alleges.-”
    Thought this
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aL3eb4Ykqef8&refer=us
    ” An expert witness who worked for the securities law firm Milberg Weiss agreed to plead guilty to lying to judges about contingency payments he received for his testimony if the firm won a case –
    -Torkelsen was purportedly hired as an independent witness and as such couldn’t be paid based on the outcome of the cases in which he testified, prosecutors said.”
    and
    “A prominent U.S. class-action law firm engaged in “extremely troubling conduct” in pursuing fraud claims against Coca-Cola Co and should not be allowed to serve as lead lawyers in the lawsuit, according to a court-appointed adviser in the case-
    -[ Special Master Hunter ] Hughes, of law firm Rogers & Hardin in Atlanta, said in the filing that a former Coke executive “delivered to plaintiffs’ counsel thousands of documents he wrongfully took from Coke” and was paid by the lawyers for his actions.
    “The court is faced with a very unusual situation in which class counsel engaged in extremely troubling conduct by paying for documents stolen from Coke, and then exacerbated the conclusions to be drawn from that initial conduct by refusing to accept responsibility for that conduct,” Hughes wrote.-”
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/business/20080229-0947-cocacola-classaction.html
    this is Lerach’s firm too.

  29. bobby B

    “The insurance companies are really out for everyone’s interest as long as the legislature, the insurance commissioners, the judges and the lawyers don’t stand in their way. Thank goodness we have insurance companies.”
    Belle, I’m a lawyer for those danged insurers, and I’d like to make two quick points:
    1. Your judges take oaths to serve the citizens of your state, and your constitution, and honesty and goodness and virtue and Girl Scouts and baseball and I don’t know what-all else. So do your state officials, and your prosecutors. Far as I remember, I just had to promise to try to get to work on time. And yet, it’s us insurers who are the only ones who haven’t been actively seeking to steal the shorts from your butt. Funny, that.
    2. We sell promises. We write these promises out on paper, in very precise words. We have to be precise because, in some states, if we leave even a little bit of fudge in between a couple of the words, some of your more elected-type judges can discover brand new coverages that benefit the voters . . . I mean, the insureds . . . in brand new, unexpected ways. We type all of these words onto pieces of paper, in english, and then we give those papers to you before we take your money. That’s right – you get to READ ALL THOSE WORDS FIRST! Cool, eh? So, we can’t fool you, BS you, snow you, overpower you, mislead you, or even make you pull our finger in regard to what you’re buying – you can read it, your lawyer can read it, your agent can read it . . .
    So, why don’t you ever read the damn things?
    (And, you know darned well why the anti-concurrent-causation language exists – you know which judges said “2 + 2 = whatever that there voter of mine needs”, and you know how they prostituted themselves and their educations and basic grammar in so doing. No, your biggest beef here is that we found some words that were harder to mis-explain and mischaracterize, and so y’all only got the benefit of the true bargain and NOT a fun new windfall from us this time.)

  30. also a lawyer

    Bellesouth, it’s clear you have a slant to your opinions making you no different from many other commenters–“Haley broke the law”?!?! Didn’t the MS Supreme Court just uphold his interpretation and rule against your hero Hood? Go back to Edgewater Mall and get yourself another degree.
    How could Hood know these guys were crooks? How could he NOT know? Afterall, they’re like family.

  31. bellesouth

    I would reply to these questions but I have already submitted my third comment for this thread and it was not posted, so it would be a waste of my time to try to respond and not have the comment appear.

  32. bellesouth

    also a lawyer, I doubt you can call the opinion upholding his interpretation of the law anything but “goblygook”. If you are really a lawyer, you’d know that. They twisted and turned to get that decision on behalf of Haley. What about if the exception doesn’t fit then the rule stands?
    Bobby B — you almost make my point for me — the companies word their documents with so many loopholes you can almost call them a scam on the people.

  33. WOW

    Why beat on the Edgewater Mall and its distinguished Alumni?
    Bobby B: Don’t be so certain the Supreme Court of Louisiana won’t find a way to “mis-explain and mischaracterize”. That will be interesting to see.
    To all lawyers, really, do you have to use “opine”?

  34. rogerwilco

    Re the language of insurance policies and their clarity:
    I had clients who were family farmers. They had a metal barn as an insured item on a farm policy. The barn collapsed after an ice storm. The insurance company denied coverage because the weight of ice and snow was not a covered cause of loss listed in the policy.
    The main insuring clause of the policy indeed provided that coverage did not exist, but there was an endorsement attached to the policy at the end that provided for coverage. I sued the company on behalf of the farmers. After two years of litigation, I won on my motion for summary judgment after the regional claims director of the company admitted in a deposition that the policy certainly seemed a bit ambiguous to him. The judge called the policy the “epitome of ambiguity,” which being a plaintiffs’ attorney with an insurance emphasis, I thought was a wonderful turn of phrase.
    All of this is to say that, although people have the opportunity to read the policy when they buy it, you must be a lawyer or an insurance employee to understand it. This is not an exaggeration. As Mr. Rossmiller has pointed out many times on this blog, there are several federal judges, and lord knows how many lawyers, who don’t yet understand the ACC clause.

  35. Insurance Coveragle?

    State Farm is suing the Attorney General of Louisiana also……
    http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/16154902.html

  36. WOW

    So one anecdotal story condemns an entire industry?
    Many, many jurisdictions have applied the ACC clause without difficulty. Also, lawyers and judges are often very much like the public at large – they don’t read their policies either.
    Look at all the payments made for wind and compare them to the amounts paid for flooding and you might be surprised. Also, look at the overwhelming number of claims that settled without litigation or through various mediations programs. Look how few cases have actually gone to trial from any carrier.
    That’s a significantly viable sample as opposed to one metal barn.

  37. Rogerwilco

    To wow, I had no intention of condemning an entire industry, just responding to the guy who said smugly that people ought to read their policies and, if they did, they would easily see what they cover and what they don’t. That argument is impossible to make with a straight face. I understand that policies are written that way from necessity most times, but anyone who maintains that it’s an insured’s fault for not reading and understanding the policy is spewing industry rhetoric, and I do mean spewing.

  38. Rob

    I agree that simply saying “read your policy, nitwit!” isn’t fair.
    One major factor behind why one “has to be a lawyer or an insurance employee to understand” insurance policies is the history of insurance coverage litigation. Older policies tend to be written in fairly simple language (though simplicity =! clarity). Newer ones tend to be more complex. I’ve read policies from the 1950s and policies that are in effect today.
    There is an ongoing war of words between the lawyers representing policyholders and lawyers representing insurers, and the result is policies that are now sometimes hundreds of pages long. A CGL coverage form used to be a few pags. It’s now, what, 15 or so?
    Given the issues that come up, it seems to me that increasing complexity is inevitable. What, after all, is the meaning of “is?” 🙂
    If you agree with me on that, then it’s logical to assume that, at some point, insurance policies will become sufficiently complex as to confuse most people. This is not to say that in the “state of insurance nature,” so to speak, before those wascally lawyers got involved, insurance policies were crystal clear. I’ll hazard a guess that they may have included a confusing clause or two.
    If there is a solution to this, and I’m not sure there is, it has to somehow short-circuit the litigation (or most of it). Some sort of reform with how the state insurance commissioners do their jobs? I dunno. It’s not a simple problem.

  39. Scruggs scandal update: sweet potatoes by the acre

    Some developments of the past ten days or so: * In major blow to defense, Judge Biggers denies motions to suppress wiretap evidence and evidence of similar bad acts [Rossmiller] * Balducci says he and…

  40. Ostrich democrats

    Bellesouth,
    It is clear now that you are simply a political pundit who refuses to look at this situation objectively. Hood is under attack because he is conducting business in an unethical, and possibly illegal way, while acting as the state’s highest ranking government prosecutor of crime. Sedning “assignments” to his friend attorneys based on the amount of their campaign contributions. Bringing and then dismissing criminal actions strategically to assist a campaign contributor lawyer win a civil case. Of course not all attorneys are bad guys, just as not all insurance people are bad guys, but make the judgment on which ones are by factual accounts of their actions, not party affiliation!

  41. Hank

    Bob,
    I agree to some extent, and I beleive the only solution to this problem is to take attorneys out of the equation! Set up an arbitration board to decide coverage disputes and allow only fair resolutions to the disputes (take away the possibility of a jackpot justice judgment). Of course attorneys may want positions on the board, but it is unlikely many will seek such a position because there wouldn’t be the possibility of “scoring a big hit” financially.