Supremely surprising events in Jones v Scruggs (Corrected)

Surprising events can turn old news into new – and that’s certainly the case with the latest news about the fee dispute between Jones, Funderburg, Sessums, Peterson and Lee and the other member firms of the defunct SKG joint venture group.

Surprising event # 1 came from the Mississippi Supreme Court. The MSC granted the Interlocutory Appeal filed by Dick Scruggs as well as the Motion for Reconsideration of the Interlocutory Appeal filed by the other former member firms of SKG – surprising enough to generate Rossmiller’s mildest post yet about a Scruggs related event that alone was a surprising and welcome event.

News editor Patsy Brumfield had the story for the Daily Journal and Alyssa Schnugg followed in the Oxford Eagle story reported on the blog folo.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has granted Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and former Scruggs Katrina Group attorneys a hearing to decide whether a lawsuit involving Hurricane Katrina litigation should go to arbitration.

In April, Circuit Court Judge William Coleman ruled the law firm of Jones, Funderburg, Sessums, Peterson and Lee is entitled to fees and possibly punitive damages arising from their case against the Scruggs Katrina Group for $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina-related litigation. Coleman ruled in favor of the Jones firm because the lawsuit over legal fees led to the attempt by members of the Scruggs Law Firm to bribe Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey — the original judge presiding over the lawsuit.

MSC’s website provided little information and no clues about what will be considered – clues come instead from a folo reader commenting on the Eagle story.

I really doubt they will disagree with the Court’s rulings on sanctions against Scruggs, but I could be wrong. The part that has always interested me is whether the S.Ct. will set a precedent that joint venturers who didn’t bribe anyone can be sanctioned for bribery.

I’ve included the announcements from the MSC website at the end of the post in the interest of moving on to the more recent Surprising Event #2 – Scruggs reached a settlement with Jones. Alyssa Schnugg has that story – linked here in pdf as the Eagle flies before the ink can dry and links disappear overnight.

The lawsuit against former trial attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs — that led to his being incarcerated — has been settled, Oxford attorney Grady Tollison said this morning.

“We settled Thursday morning,” Tollison said.

On behalf of Jackson law firm, Jones, Funderburg, Sessums, Peterson & Lee, Tollison filed a lawsuit in March 2007 against Scruggs and other former members of the now defunct Scruggs Katrina Group. Jackson attorney Johnny Jones claimed his firm was pushed out of the Scruggs Katrina Group and only offered a fraction of what was owned to them for the firm’s work on several Hurricane Katrina-related cases…

Also listed in the suit are the Barrett Law Office, Nutt & McAlister and Lovelace law firms — which were all part of the SKG when it was formed.

Tollison said his client has also settled with the Nutt & McAlister Law Firm. He said he expects to go to trial against the Barrett and Lovelace firms.

“We’re attempted to settled with them,” Tollison said. “But my feeling is, we’re headed for trial.”

Not for a while, I would think as the MSC orders included a Stay. Frankly, I wonder what settlement would be appropriate with the Lovelace firm. If you recall, there is correspondence from Lovelace that offers support to Jones in the dispute.

Surprising event #3 may not be worth a mention but it caught my eye as I was reading about the MDI mediation program after Judge Senter’s ruling in Boyd v State Farm.

As it turns out, it was not worth mentioning – a case of mistaken identity on my part – and references to the non-event have been deleted and my apology added.

Nonetheless, there are relationships in the litigation that are too close for comfort – and not all of them have been subjected to the same examination as others.  I suspect that day will come when there’s a surprise #3 worth reporting and we’ll have it when it does.

Here are the MSC notices with emphasis added:

Lafayette Circuit Court; LC Case #: L07-135; Ruling Date: 02/26/2008; Ruling Judge: William Coleman; Disposition: Petition for Interlocutory Appeal filed by petitioners is granted. All proceedings in cause no. LO7-135,Lafayette County Circuit Court, are stayed pending this Court’s decision in this appeal. Easley, J., not participating. Order entered.

Lafayette Circuit Court; LC Case #: L07-135; Ruling Date: 04/16/2008; Ruling Judge: William Coleman; Disposition: Motion for Reconsideration of Order Denying Petition for Interlocutory Appeal and for Stay of Proceedings filed by Petitioners is granted. The Petition for Interlocutory Appeal and for Stay of Proceedings filed by Petitioners is granted. All proceedings in cause no. L07-135, Lafayette County Circuit Court, are stayed pending this Court’s decision in this appeal. Easley, J., not participating. Order entered.

26 thoughts on “Supremely surprising events in Jones v Scruggs (Corrected)”

  1. Great find Nowdy. Somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this, from Lackey inappropriately sealing the Jones suit, to him runnning to the feds, to him serving up his boy Balducci and such – all over a ruling he should have given to begin with.

    sop

  2. I thought I read that Scruggs himself already settled out on the Jones case, so this wouldn’t have any bearing on him. Maybe one other defendent also settled, but there were two defendents left in the fight.

  3. Beau I agree this changes nothing for Scruggs except maybe some perceptions.

    When one considers the totality of the events one begins to get the feeling Henry Lackey would have served up a family member to get at Scruggs.

    Nowdy and Belle caught a bunch of crap for daring to see things a bit differently from the herd. For those who were mindlessly cheering on the Scruggs railroading, one lesson most missed is at the federal level it is possible to manufacture a crime. The implications for everyone are chilling.

    sop

  4. That is a different judge Coleman– Ken Coleman is a retired circuit judge from Chickasaw County, not the retired circuit judge from Hinds County who handled the Jones case after Judge Lackey and the other local circuit judges recused themselves.

  5. Let me get this straight: you think that because Scruggs may have been entitled to arbitration, it was OK for him to bribe Lackey to get it?

    Really?

    That is an interesting form of jurisprudence you envision. Is it purely a Mississippi thing, or is that how you should think it should work everywhere? Because in most jurisdictions, if you think the judge is committing error, you file an appeal. Bribing him to fix the error is an unusual tactic. Except, I guess, in Mississippi.

    For what it’s worth, I would suggest a different test: bribing judges is wrong. Every time.

    But I am not from Mississippi, so I lack the cultural and regional qualifications to understand why bribery is OK down there.

    Sorry.

  6. As usual you got nothing straight Mr CG.

    In Mississippi and I’m beginning to gather most every state the way the governemnt handled “the sting” would constitute entrapment. It was Lackey not Scruggs that mentioned money and only then after several months after Balducci originally went to him ex parte.

    I know your legal expertise suddenly ends when it leads you to inconvenient places CG but try to stay with us.

    sop

  7. If the case was truly entrapment, then why didn’t Scruggs, armed with the best defense lawyers in the world and an unlimited litigation budget, assert that defense and try the case?

    I seem to recall that he and his took a good long hard look at the evidence and, having done so, voluntarily plead guilty.

    Why would he do that if he had a valid entrapment defense?

    Could it be that his lawyers know that law and those facts better than you do?

    Just a thought.

  8. And I thought you said you were a lawyer CG?

    Federal rules are different, crimes such as bribery can be manufactured. And certainly his lawyers knew that just as they knew that under Mississippi law what happened was entrapment.

    Maybe Jim Hood understands the Mississippi Code and the law better than Sid Salter and the rest of the “Where is Jim Hood” crowd.

    NMC has been by here today, if I’m wrong I’m certain he’ll correct me.

    sop

  9. To the extent that you are saying entrapment was NOT an available defense to Dickie, et al (and I think that is what you are saying, and that is incorrect), I attach the following from Forbes legal editor: I will post the link at the end.

    The gist is that entrapment WAS available as a defense, but that for tactical reasons, Scruggs chose not to assert it. He didn’t love the defense enough to deal with the consequences of asserting it.

    Scruggs may use stealth entrapment defense to bribery charge

    Attorneys for famous plaintiffs lawyer Richard F.

  10. I didn’t say the defense was unavailable at the federal level. (it wouldn’t have done him any good though) I am talking about investigative techniques that are simply not allowed at the state level such as manufacturing a crime.

    The concept is really not that hard to get.

    sop

  11. The aspect of entrapment that most, but not all, have overlooked is the involvement of a sitting judge.

    A topic which keeps coming up is the question of entrapment… Simply put, there is something (which seems to me) insidious in the use of a sitting judge as a government agent offering to be bribed in a bribery entrapment scheme. Especially one who is a close friend of the person and family of one of the targets of the scheme.

    Justice cannot be achieved if its basis is injustice, law breaking. When a judge becomes a government agent in an entrapment, the judiciary becomes an agent in breaking the law so as to punish one caught in the trap of the entrapment.

    Can you really use “evidence of other crimes” to prove the predisposition necessary for the government to say there was no entrapment? Seems a stretch.

    Remember, claimsguy, Scruggs made the statement that he was guilty of what the government said it could prove. Backstrom’s attorney made a similar point. Yet, Judge Biggers did not ask the questions needed to clarify the distinction – condoning the entrapment by default.

    It seems obvious Scruggs wouldn’t claim it as a defense – who would when so many seemed to be in on it.

  12. It’s a stretch especially in light of what has not happened with Bobby Delaughter Nowdy. Even the black helicopter lady doesn’t bring it up anymore….

    sop

  13. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need judges wearing wires. Of course, in a perfect world, people wouldn’t try to bribe them.

    All they had to do was say “no”. All Balducci had to say was “Judge, you misunderstood me, and I am terribly sorry for any confusion I caused.” That he took the other road is entirely on him. He had a choice.

    All Scruggs had to say was “Balducci, you are insane. You want to bribe a sitting judge? That’s a felony. Turn yourself in, because if you don’t, I have to.” Likewise, he had a choice.

    Law-abiding, ethical people would make the right choice. To suggest that the government acted in such a manner as to deprive Scruggs of his ability to resist committing the crime is simply absurd.

    And while it may be true that Balducci took his time deciding whether to take the bait, but Scruggs certainly didn’t, did he? He jumped right in, and acted as if it was just another day at the office. Like he had been down that road before, and had no qualms about taking that journey again.

  14. I read in one of the other blogs a bit ago that maybe this whole case is now settled, and that it appears that Scruggs settled up with the other attorneys who were representing the Sisters (the DC firm I think). Looks to be getting his affairs in order and tying up loose ends.
    I do agree that when I read about this case (Jones), the contract called for disputes to be settled in arbritration, and it baffled me that the Scruggs would have done anything at all to try to persuade Lackey to send it to arbritration. Whether he was guilty of bribery, entrapped, or just trying to use Balducci to influence him to send it to arbritration, the initial overtures and what they had Balducci do originally (earwigging or whatever one calls it) was a “boneheaded” idea to borrow a phrase from Mr Grisham. Why they didn’t file to move it to arbritration and let it take it’s course is beyond me. If Lackey doesn’t send it to arbritration, that what the appeals court is all about.

  15. Good points Beau. OTOH I’ve heard other lawyers describe what Balducci did as positive earwigging, ie “Hey Judge we’re all for following the contract, no dispute with that.”

    It has also been widely assumed that Balducci paid that initial visit at Scruggs request, when he might have gone on his own. All that said as CG points out Scruggs could have said no. That also gets back to entrapment being legal in Federal Investigations (Ie manufacturing a crime). From a civil liberty standpoint that bothers me.

    Scruggs has an outstanding appeal on Acker’s ill advised civil contempt findings (which as Belle pointed out contained no legal cites). We’re keeping an eye out for that. There aren’t too many loose ends left.

    sop

  16. The question, claimsguy, is what road Scruggs had been down before.

    You can read the transcripts to suggest more roads other than judicial bribery.

    Unfortunately, judges here seeking financial assistance from attorneys whey they’re in a bind does not appear to be unusual – Paul Minor’s case a case in point.

    Lackey convinced Balducci he was in a desperate situation and Balducci promised to help.

    However, Balducci had no money. There are no transcripts of what Balducci told Patterson or Scruggs about the money he needed to give Judge Lackey. Did he ask for money to pay a bribe or to help his friend out of a bind?

    Was Scruggs giving the money to Balducci to help the judge, not bribe him?

    That’s where the issue of Lackey as a sitting state judge becomes really important. His asking for the money would make his request “extortion under color of official right” – a crime – were he also not covered by the exemption provided him in his duel role as agent of federal government.

    My understanding it that it’s rather common for the result of such extortion to end up with the victim charged with bribery.

  17. Any motion by Scruggs to have the case sent to arbitration would have opened the strong possibility of a ruling – a ruling that might be contrary to a different position he would want to take in the future when deciding if he wanted arbitration or if he was happy with the judge.

  18. Beau’s points are well taken. I just can’t help but wonder how much electing judges contributes to the creation of an environment that seems ripe for ethical violations.

    Somewhere I read a comment about “earwigging” that compared it to “lobbying”.

    We’re seeing situations all over the country that suggest ethical violations – a favorable rental agreement for a Congressman is one that comes to mind.

    In all of the uproar about the Chancellor’s sentencing letter, someone posted a comment about Mike Moore’s prosecution of the Chancellor’s father when he was DA. It seems the Chancellor – one of my favorite people btw – told Moore that his family understood and there were no hard feelings – something to the effect that “dad was a part of a different time”.

    In that sense, we’re in yet another transition.

    The accepted “perks of power” are changing and increasingly limited. A lot of people are getting caught in the transition – and some, no doubt, are working hard to circumvent new rules.

    Trouble is that this transition is focusing on comparably small matters and not the big ones – favorable rental agreement of Congressman versus favorable big money contracts with the government.

  19. NAAS, Scruggs did file a motion for arbitration within a few days following the filing of the Jones suit.

    I’ll see if I can find the document.

  20. N:

    Agreed, but he didn’t litigate that motion. Curiously, and tragically, somebody resorted to an improper and extrajudicial attempt to steer the matter to arbitration.

  21. I found this among the documents under Jones v Scruggs under legal in our left sidebar, NAAS

    What I remember most that Jones never filed for arbitration – that came out in the first hearing. All of his “requests” were for arbitration were to Scruggs and other SKG members but he filed suit without filing for arbitration.

    Scruggs filed with AAA – trying to get the dispute into arbitration after Jones filed suit (referenced in the document I linked) but Jones filed motion to Stay arbitration.

    I can see why Scruggs, Scruggs, Backstrom were suspicious of the Jones suit – with the “seal” on the suit even moreso.

  22. Scruggs did attempt to litigate, NAAS.

    If you put Jones in the search box up top, it will pull up a list of posts – this one seemed to have the most on the early background in the case.

  23. Nowdoucit:

    Your elaborate attempts to construct parallel universe explanations for Scruggs behavior are interesting, I guess, but they run up against a fundamental truth: Scruggs and his megawatt legal team, knowing the true facts, decided to have him plead. That means that they knew that any really compelling exculpatory story was false (and would therefore be perjury).

    Knowing that entrapment IS a valid defense, they chose not to assert it. Knowing everything there was to know (which is way more than any of us know) he plead guilty.

    At least HE faced up to the truth. Perhaps you should take his lead.

  24. Are reality and truth significantly different concepts down there?

    The key point is that he and his team know the facts far better than any of us do. Knowing those facts, they made the choice they made. If any man was in a position to resist unfair or unfounded charges, it was Dickie: he was a very popular local figure (as evidenced by the continuing parade of apologists seeking to rationalize and excuse his felonious behavior) with the best legal team money could buy. He was ideally positioned to generate “reasonable doubt”. And yet, knowing all of this, he rolled over.

    What do you think you know that he and his team didn’t? What leads you to believe that his choice was the wrong one?

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