(Zach) Scruggs Nation, March 19

Let’s return for a moment to last week and the plea agreements of Dickie Scruggs and Sid Backstrom.  We can surmise from the fact that Scruggs and Backstrom made plea agreements that Zach Scruggs also discussed a plea agreement.

My working hypothesis was that one strong motivation for Dickie Scruggs to make a deal was to help get Zach out of this mess.  This was based not just on common sense but information I received about family pressures Scruggs was receiving.  Since then, I have also gotten quite a lot of information about what might have happened that led to no deal for Zach, and not all of this information is entirely consistent, or more accurately, it is consistent to a point but it is missing unanimity on the one key thing — exactly why the deal fell apart. 

I believe that something close to what the Clarion-Ledger reported last Friday and then yanked from its website was being discussed — Zach would walk but surrender his law license.  (It would be helpful if the CL would explain why the information was yanked — because the source or sources turned out not to be credible, because the deal was only conceptual on one party’s part and was not actually a serious possibility, or because the deal was set up and then fell apart because of some reason we don’t know for sure).

It is also plausible, considering Zach’s apparently lesser involvement as alleged by prosecutors, to assume that in any deal, even if he did not escape prison entirely, his time would have been minimal, say one year at the most. Now, as I’ve mentioned, one sticking point could have been whether he would also walk on possible charges stemming from the Wilson case.  Another could have been whether he would have to cooperate with prosecutors in the Lackey bribery case and in Wilson, the latter of which could set him at odds with his father’s interests.

Let us suppose, just to examine these assumptions, that it is true that Dickie Scruggs was interested in making a deal that would also benefit his son.  Seeing as the deal fell apart, what other motives did Scruggs have to make the plea bargain he eventually did?  In other words, why did he not do what many predicted he would, walk into court with Kenny Rogers’ "The Gambler" blasting from his earphones?  We know, from a motion the government filed at that time, that the defense saw the "taint team" evidence — the data pulled from the Scruggs Law Firm computer system — the day before the plea bargains. 

Merely because one thing follows another does not mean the first caused the second. However, we also know, from review of court filings, that even without this taint team evidence, the government’s case was strong — the recordings showed Scruggs reviewing and editing Lackey’s draft order, Balducci would testify against him and the government would introduce evidence of his involvement in an alleged conspiracy to bribe Judge DeLaughter in the Wilson case.  If the taint team evidence tended to solidify the government’s case — e-mails and the like that showed Scruggs’ knowledge and participation — he likely would have received advice from his attorneys that he stood a high likelihood of being convicted on most or all the six counts against him and spending the rest of his life in prison.

With the deal he received, however, he will be free in five years (in theory only, because we don’t know what will happen with the Wilson case).  In any event, a 100 percent chance of five years is better than an 80 percent chance of 75 years.  So he had motives of his own to settle, and he is not obligated under the agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.

A small item in the Wall Street Journal today by Ashby Jones says that even though Scruggs has pleaded guilty and could be called as a witness without Fifth Amendment problems, the government is unlikely to do so because of the risk of antagonizing the jury by having a father testify against his son. (Hat tip, Jane Genova). Not to mention, if you read the transcript of Dickie’s plea, you can see that he’s not going to give it up easy.

About whether the passing of the March 17 plea deadline is real, or if Zach can still get a plea agreement, readers, in comments and in e-mails, said that after the plea deadline any plea is an "open" plea, essentially one in which the judge makes no assurances of willingness to accept terms worked out with prosecutors.  I looked up some federal case law and what I saw was in line with these statements — a judge has the authority to set such a deadline to assist with trial management and is not bound to accept any agreement after that, except for good cause.  Normally, the mere fact that the deadline was missed is not good cause.  A judge can make exceptions, of course, but generally it appears they do not. 

In state courts, the law varies from state to state — I found this interesting case from Illinois explaining the two different views of courts on how set-in-stone the plea agreement deadline is.  You might be interested.  

Lastly, readers pointed out something I didn’t remember — two new members of Zach’s defense team, Chip Robertson and Mary Winter, are old hands with the Scruggs Circus.  Their firm represents the Rigsby sisters in the False Claim Act "whistleblower" case against State Farm, and as one enterprising reader found out in doing research on my blog, Robertston and Winter are mentioned in one of the Kerri Rigsby depositions I’ve posted.  See beginning on page 17.  Also, here is the post in which I discussed other aspects of the deposition. 

Kerri Rigsby met them, according to her testimony, back in early 2006 in a trailer along with Dickie Scruggs (the trailer may have been the one set up on former Sen. Lott’s property after Katrina in Pascagoula, but this is not clear from the transcript).  Apparently, Cori Rigsby brought her laptop and accessed the State Farm claims documents with her laptop and State Farm password. These claims documents, the value of which appears to be some mixture of hype and hope, were used by Scruggs in a variety of sensationalism ways to drum up publicity and to use as leverage — the Rigsby sisters’ 20/20 interview, numerous uncritical press stories featuring Scruggs’ exaggerations, the False Claims Act case, several Katrina cases including McIntosh v. State Farm, grand jury investigations in conjunction with state and federal prosecutors, and of course, as a negotiating ploy in the settlement of the 640 Katrina cases against State Farm.  This last item, of course, led indirectly to  two prosecutions of Scruggs — the first stemming from his game of keepaway with the help of AG Jim Hood with the documents in defiance of Judge Acker’s order, the second as a result of the conspiracy to bribe Judge Lackey in the Jones v. Scruggs fee dispute that arose out of the settlement. 

When you see it written down that way, you can see how one thing led to another and brought us to where we are now.  So it’s only fitting that Robertson and Winter, who were there at or near the beginning, should be there at the end. 

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again. This long list of events culminating in Scruggs’ plunge makes me think of Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 

 

17 Comments

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17 Responses to (Zach) Scruggs Nation, March 19

  1. oxwriter

    “These claims documents, the value of which appears to be some mixture of hype and hope, were used by Scruggs in a variety of sensationalism ways to drum up publicity and to use as leverage…”
    what do you mean by the value appears to be some mixture of hype and hope? Who is deciding what the value is? and why is important? what kind of value and does it make a difference?

  2. M Williams

    You know a few things that came up in just a couple of months, but Dickie Scruggs has been working on quite a few deals that have quid pro quo’s and they begin with other lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, Attorney Generals, and various movers and shakers.
    David has a clear vision of the Global Satellite Position of everything that is inclusive that appears in the months since Trent Lott turned in his office, and a few days later, Dickie Scruggs’ Oxford office was raided. And then the group in Oxford, at that office, started a rolling stone. It was from an event that was relatively recent.
    I see a broader view. In my view, I’m looking at Dickie’s world that started in early 1994. A planet was born, and lots of things came into a Constellation
    which still connects and fixes itself to many branches of one vast universe.
    Only recently I learned that the Castano lawyers had been given “the Motley”, which is a variation of “the Dickie”, the continent of which is based on a pay-out agreement for financial dealings in the tobacco settlement. Knowing that the lawyers in that are full of issues, especially today, it’s very likely that there’s a fairly high level of management to account for the profits.
    The tobacco cartel didn’t just devise a schematic to run a 1922 Ford, but devised a complicated “divide and conquer” routine that is wired in translation, first by electrical engineers who used to do wires for Fiat, or so it seems, and next into less complex forms of division which boils down to nickles and dimes sprung from a catapult by a hoard of starving Ethiopian mobsters.
    What is easy to understand is not so easy to rectify with what is known of Dickie’s fifedom – a layout that was once centered near the Biloxi “Point”, but has moved up near the center of pleasantville, Oxford on the border.
    In 1998, the Medicaid lawyers from almost all the States, got a copy of the rules of their payment schedules and this is a very complex issue in itself. Only a couple of years back, in a side remark to one of the Castano lawyers, did I learn that he had been sued by Ron Motley (S.C.lawyer) who actually ran the nuts and bolts leading to the 1998 settlement. But my acquaintance lawyer was “sued”, he didn’t know when his 10 million was coming his way – but he wanted it. Chances are, since he settled out with Motley, the dough was on it’s way. That was yesterday.
    Pump up the volume. Look up and take a broader view of just how many stars are roaming in the “tobacco issue” Constellation. And that was Moore/Dickey. Their problem was handling the dough. Motley, on a wild guess I have, is handling a few of the wild hairs of the 1998 deal – Wigand, for example, needs to keep up with his good works just as the American Legacy needs to keep up it’s posh bunch of Georgetown drop-out’s pushing paper. Then there’s Matt Myers, who likes to get a few hooks together, and reel in a tobacco bad person. He has to be paid.
    So, in the broader spectrum of the universe that I see, I wonder why the concentrated effort of playing catch in the narrowest sense, on the front lawn, isn’t slightly understating the scenic perspectives of the first, best, most, and very complex tobacco schematic.
    I’m not saying Langston isn’t a heap of mushy gooey intrigue, or that Balducci isn’t a heap of the same, or that Dickie isn’t just high-rolling in the Square; there’s a well-heeled routine amid the dancers in all that. I love how the mirror ball from a judge bribe issue keeps all those dots bouncing around – not connected, but colorful and hard to catch.
    Is this all there is? Not as I know it. Motley, for one thing, is gulping down beer in some backyard swing. Don Barrett is probably confused that it’s no longer duck season, so he’s not looking for his blind spot. He’s got a deer in his headlights, but he seems to disappear from the older Constellation.
    So what’s the Close Up? I keep harping on the fact that there’s a management team that has to work 24/7 to keep up with this screwy 25 year pay-off, but why do I see it that way? I should be thinking in a tight circle.
    I can’t imagine this as a tight circle though. There’s reason. I was sitting at a computer one week-end, not long ago, and I was shocked. Trent Lott, set for life in his seat, suddenly goes out the back door – not expected. Next two days, there’s a front door open to Dickie’s place in Oxford.
    Then the fall-out. A Judge bribe issue. But turn the clock back. I’m obsessing about what? Well, the meat hanging in the locker is still fresh for another 15 years and there’s a lot of hungry soldiers to feed. I keep thinking about poor millionaires like J.D. Lee who complained to me not long ago, “I want my 10 million now.”
    And Motley’s a beer drinking man with gusty who hardly keeps his eyes on the pool table, much less the ball. He’s not a book-keeper.
    But I learned my logic from George Bernard Shaw. It’s impractical, but that was how I get into this lay of the land. The topography is vast. There’s a “motive” for Zach, Dickie, Moore, and even – god knows – the Rigsby’s too. But what is most complex is what began the stone to roll.
    Look back and see who gets what and when. It’s hard to figure. But since Dickie got in trouble over a silly issue involving a million dollar pay off in a bigger, more recent pay off, how is it so unimaginable that all this lay down and lawyering is squared in reason by such recent fact and small time bickering?
    I have to remember that 25 years is a pretty long time in the tradition of give and take, and in this, there’s got to be “motive”, and many, many, many other players. I’ve mentioned a few. Small timers. There’s still half a billion a year to split in the on-going pay down by big tobacco – and a twisted sort of division which is by most accounts territorial and full of divisiness.
    Honestly, I just woke up one day and saw a big show for a week. It grew. I had been seeing bits and pieces of complex litigation hand-out’s for a decade, people with have’s, lawyers with haven’t yet’s – but it’s where I still see the action.
    It’s ok to pull up Ed Peters. It’s ok to pull up Delaughter. But that’s not where I see the ceiling.
    Twenty-five years of pay offs is a long time, and there’s no way in the universe to keep up with the movement or the traffic.
    So, I see all this in a prism of greater harm, more vast territory, and many more up’s than down’s. It’s just – well, I don’t think for a minute there’s anything but the short view of history. And that’s not logical because Trent Lott started this show, and he wasn’t in the Big’s and Dickie’s relative for no reason.
    My radical view of this is that the Feds haven’t the vaguest idea of past events, so Zach, Moore, Motley, Don, Dickie – I think that 120 footer from Finland is still gonna float you back to St.Barths.

  3. MSlawyer

    M. Williams, have you considered talking to the Feds about what you know? Are you afraid to do that? If so, protection would probably be offered to you. I find your comments most interesting, although at times I’m not sure I understand the points you are trying to make.

  4. As a North Dakota boy you should know you too are subject to the verity which you quote:
    “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

  5. MORE COWBELL

    Merrill: I thought the tobacco payout was 20 years. Have you ever been in Dickie’s Financial Office? As you know, it’s in a wholly separate building off the square. Heard he had quite a few scurrying about in there. I enjoy your ramblings, your style reminds me somewhat of Faulkner. I read you were a paralegal – did you ever go to law school? How do you compare yourself with the State Farm whistleblowers?

  6. ThirdSouth

    Better yet than Gray’s familiar lines, in the context of this case, are these lines from “Society Should Realize,” a poem by Charles Bukowsi (Bone Palace Ballet, Black Sparrow Press, 1997):
    You consult psychiatrists and philosphers
    When things aren’t going well
    And whores when they are.

  7. dixie68

    I wish I was smart enough to understand everything Mr. Williams either said or alluded to. Anyone care to elaborate?

  8. Tim

    David, you should delete anything over 10 paragraphs as such it not a “comment” its a book

  9. M Williams

    MSLAWYER: What’s the point? It’s very confusing for someone who doesn’t know the history. I’m happy to fill in the blanks. Points? I think that would be a side-order, but if that concerns you as my mission, the point is simply that a hugh corruption is not settled at all. I think that the “amorphous Plaintiff” Medicaid lawsuit was pointless, and, from personal knowledge, I point out that the tobacco industry that I read about certainly loved the idea of getting protection from the law firms in order to stabalize the markets. It’s one point.
    And since you ask, why is it that no one in Mississippi (or any other State) has any idea what went on because the press kept the focus on “good deeds” of Mike Moore.
    I would love to know the history, and who else would be more entitled to that – well, victims of tobacco. But, from what I read, Mississippi only knows what Moore’s team fed to the press – and often through Dick Morris, Trent Lott’s publicity teams, etc.
    The overall point, to be fair, is that the Medicaid suit set tobacco litigation and the destruction of tobacco issues back about a century.
    They won. Pointless people got lots of money to help tobacco win what they wanted, and to the benefit of Scruggs, and Moore. COWBELL: My personal relationship with D.S., Barrett, Moore, Minor, and others, is found in the recently published book Jogando Com a Mafia Do Tobaco by Merrell Williams. Order on-line in “the South”, Sao Paulo, Rio, etc. Livraria Martinis Fontes Paulista of Sao Paulo, Bra., a posh book store (golden star) lists the book as 4.5 stars from reader’s opinions. I think it’s a good ramble. MSLAWYER, if the “feds” were interested in anything, they would have translated my book – and read the Portugese – two months ago. It will be published in Canada this year in English. It’s daring but true. And it’s pretty clear.

  10. Justus

    MWILLIAMS – Nice theory and read above, although a little too abstract for many who don’t know the players or the game.
    You said that “people got lots of money” above. Based upon your info, “who” do you think were the top 5 takers of tobacco money in MS?

  11. bothered

    dixie 68: i’ll attempt an elaboration. i believe that Mr. Williams is saying that the tobacco litigation was causing the tobacco company stock prices to drop. tobacco wanted to settle the cases to protect their stock prices. they devised the settlement. trent lott put certain politicians, lobbyings, lawyers and others in touch with dickie. motley drew the agreement. it is complicated and alot of the lawyers getting the money don’t even understand how it’s calculated. Peters and Delaughter were small potatoes, there are people like lawyers, politicians, lobbyists and others who were bribed who are much more powerful and important than DeLaughter and Peters, although Rossmiller has a pretty good handle on what happened there. The money used to be run out of Dickie’s office on the coast, now it is run out of his office in Oxford. PL Blake is a distributor of this. There are others.
    What the tobacco companies paid was nickels and dimes to them but to these lawyers it is alot of money. Williams knows where Mike Moore’s money is hidden but he hasn’t told us yet.
    When the tobacco companies settled, the tobacco victims got nothing. What the companies bought was the people’s lawyers. Now these lawyers won’t sue tobacco because they would be attacking their own mother ship. Tobacco stock prices and profits are protected. This was not a progressive litigation but a regressive one and it will take 100 years to get the tobacco companies back in a position where they can be taken down.
    Scruggs isn’t the only one ripping others off on fees, according to Mr. Williams, Motley does it too.
    Mr. Williams can correct me if i’m wrong about what he was saying so far.

  12. bothered

    i also think he’s trying to get a message to the guy in the brioni suit. about the arbitrations he’s saying that the tobacco companies let the plaintiff’s lawyers pick the arbitrators to award the lawyers fees and that the tobacco companies didn’t fight the fee petitions very hard.

  13. bothered

    lastly, he gets a little miffed when we ask him questions because he wants us to buy the book for details so he doesn’t want to put it all out there in this forum AND even the US govt. can buy his book if they want to know anything.
    does that about cover it Mr. Williams?

  14. MORE COWBELL

    Bravo to you, Bothered. The lawsuit has protected the tobacco industry’s ability to operate. Kids aren’t targeted, only a moron wouldn’t know that the product is addictive and harmful. And the States, the AG’s, and the AG contributors, have done all right. Plus the product is still expanding overseas.

  15. M Williams

    For Tim, whose thoughts draw instant meaning of slim pickin’s, Bothered answers reasonably for a lawyer with time on his hands, but I doubt he’s a Brioni man, and, since I assume, Bothered, you know it’ts absurd to ask Americans to order a Portugese book, you haven’t got that one right. I’m curious how you go there. Do you know close relatives who read that? I don’t.
    So that is silly and sucks. But you do English summary well, when you try for less subjectivity for Dixie68, because it only muddles what Justus believes is “abstract”.
    Jesus, Justus, what do you think? You do think. And you probably know Ness-Motley, and Scruggs better than I do.
    Cowbell: you’re a hoot. Got most of that wrong.
    MSLAWYER: When a book is registered with the National Library in Brasil, it gets a bar code, and, I am told, the Embassy in Brasilia reads anything that an American writes. I’m just guessing, but believe it answers your question about “talking to the Feds”. They already have it.
    So, if I can pass this on to Bothereed, snag a Xanax, swill a Papst Blue Ribbon, and chill – yo, is that about right, Mr.Bothered?
    Seems I stuck you all. I’ll ride out now. I’m back in Northern Brasil.
    Tim, of Dick, Spot, and Jane, -longer comments don’t appear to be snarls. Mobey Dick will take all 3 years of law school thought.

  16. M Williams

    Tim, I’m sorry I didn’t spell that right, and you’d have a hard time finding it that way so it’s MOBY DICK. Maybe I should have shortened it to “that whale story…or quiquod guy”.
    I’ve re-read those posts above. There’s nothing “abstract”, Justus. You just don’t have 20 years of history, research, and personal association with the Medicaid hoax, so it’s abstract to you. It’s clearly written and the substance is valid. You apparently are not in a Porche changing into third yet.
    I don’t expect “catch up” in a mild review of propagandized history between 1994-1999. Abstract in this isn’t good art, for sure, but it’s good history.
    I’ve looked at Dali’s “Alice in Wonderland” brass pieces, his sketches, his odd perspective of humor in the failure of communication, often (8 years, many visits) up the hills in Paris at Montmatre – I keep realizing he wasn’t abstract but he just knew how to sketch and sculpt. It’s all about knowing what a thing is, as a lawyer sees it in the distinct blur of the present, and going outside of that, it’s simply not worth it to go on and lose billable hours by fumbling in the past. I’ve never known a lawyer who wanted to lose money by studying the history of a thing, such as legislation, at the risk of bumping a client who got hit by a drunk driver. Money is law.
    Dixie68 gets a pinch of what was pretty sound, and needed no translation. It needs study and that’s what I put into it.
    I know you weren’t born yesterday, so, the best answer for you isn’t to have a bore summarize the thoughts that are near beer true history, and the allusions, which lend credibility to lifting rocks from the past – and there’s a reason.
    Because what happened in the 1993-4 adventure, which was an extension of ground that had already been plowed elsewhere, Mike Moore started a tradition of sucking in funds under the guise of appealing to bleeding hearts who didn’t like the big, bad corporations that killed “the children”. That is a simple truth.
    It’s origin is carefully laid out by master’s of propaganda – especially PBS, and most especially Lowell Bergman (who is friends with Michael Mann). It was big time drama.
    I should know, because I was there, and have the bona fides to know “drama” from tacky reality.
    God knows – I wouldn’t be a “paralegal”, and yet two years of a gag order, a TRO in Kentucky (violated by Moore), is simply the drop in a proverbial bucket.
    What I said, and Mr. Bothered attempted to trump in the form of some semblence of reality, is information all out there – and Peters, Langston, Balducci, Minor, the “Point”, is an extension of what seems to some “abstract”. It isn’t. It’s the family.
    It begins with Barrett’s Lawsuits in the l980’s (Horton, et al. in the trial in l988), grows into a pay off of the Missippi Legislation to get “private attorney lawsuits” inside the Attorney General’s office, because these government workers didn’t say yes without paling-around with payola and promises, it’s the rule of business, and, then the 1994 round-up begins the big book.
    I certainly wasn’t demeaning the Delaughter and Peters diatribe. It’s not a “miffed” shot at the smaller tributes to the empire of law, as it has come down to Mississippi as the “Special Prosecutor’s” know and do, but it’s the work of on-going greed, hustling, and the paradox of idealism and payola.
    Through Dickie Scruggs’, who worked under the office of his friend, Mike Moore, the legislative body of Mississippi created a largese mechanism. And the largese is in legal payola, not in the phoney protection of “the people”. It began in 1993-94.
    The 1998 “Settlement” is worth billions to private lawyers. It was worth billions in 1998. It is still worth billions 2008. In ten years, the pay-off will still be worth billions to the same lawyers, if they live, or to their relatives, should they die. It is what it is.
    If you think that 50 k is exciting, you need only to look at the massive State-wide pay-off’s that linger for now, and in the long, long, long history – and they’re give-aways to parties who knew nothing or did nothing (I believe that’s squat), but have something to endure for life. Behind bars or not behind bars – the money needs a traffic patrol and it’s simply not less than the “beef” that comes from the smelly meat lockers of the present.
    The reason, Dixie68, is this: some lawyers will make money on your taxes for decades to come. They own yachts. They own planes. They own common people who own politicians. They are former polticians, as is Moore, and they get what was promised. It’s an on-going sucking up of a “deal” that is much larger, has more players, and is not, for the most part, known to be either illegal or legal. It’s a phantom.
    Caught, Dickie Scruggs and some of the family, including those who are in law defense, mixing their blood with the family of the family. And that’s just Mississippi.
    Is that about it, Mr. Bothered? Summary is one thing. Analysis and comment requires knowledge. I think the history of the present is being repeated, as it was, in the lesson of history, bound to be so. Ignorance of the past is letting the phoenix rise on a basis that best represents the meaning of societies’ best interests.
    It’s easy enough to simply pass over a rolling stone, but it’s like Dali’s Alice in Wonderland – he was always curious, and so was she. Are you?

  17. bothered

    big whoop.