The former prosecutor who made a worldwide name for himself for putting Klansman Byron De La Beckwith behind bars pleaded not guilty today to a five-count indictment in court, accused of ruling in favor of the former lawyer once called Mississippi’s “king of torts.”
An April 6 trial was set for Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in federal court in Oxford on a charge he was influenced to rule in favor of former high-profile lawyer Dickie Scruggs, who was sentenced this week to seven years in prison in the case.
DeLaughter was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman shook DeLaughter’s hand in the courtroom and said, “I’m sorry we even have to be here.”
DeLaughter has maintained his innocence, saying he followed the law in ruling largely in Scruggs’ favor in a legal-fees lawsuit brought by Scruggs’ former law partner, Bob Wilson… h/t Clarion Ledger
After writing the oft quoted phrase, In this world of sin and sorrow, H. L. Mencken continued with there is always something to be thankful for…and my “something” is the courtroom conduct of Assistant USA, Bob Norman. As the official representative of we the people, his public expression of sorrow sets an example for the court of public opinion contrary to the gleeful response that followed the indictment of Dick Scruggs.
The Clarion-Ledger points out that “luck of the draw,” so to speak, handed Judge Delaughter the Wilson case. However, Scruggs had three attorneys working with him on asbestos cases that later filed suit.
In sharp contrast to the highly publicized cases filed by Wilson and Luckey, there is little to no recognition of Jowett v Scruggs – or the insight the case provides on the events culminating in the indictment of Judge DeLaughter today.
Current 5th Circuit Judge Leslie Southwick provided a brief history of Jowett’s partnership with Scruggs when writing the August 2004 Decision issued by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in sharp contrast to the highly publicized cases filed by Wilson and Luckey.
In 1989, Juliet Lawson Jowett began working for Richard Scruggs as an employee of Asbestos Group, P.A. Jowett worked primarily in the area of occupational hearing loss. She litigated cases as a member of another of Scruggs’ professional associations, Occupational Hearing Loss, P.A. In 1994, the law firm of Scruggs, Millette, Lawson, Bozeman & Dent, P.A. (“SMLBD”) was formed. Jowett was the “Lawson” in this firm and owned eight percent of the shares.
The shareholders of the firm were paid a salary and were given a portion of net revenue based on their performance. The board of directors determined the annual bonuses of the shareholders. In 1995, Jowett signed an employment contract with SMLBD which discussed her rights as an employee of the firm and provided for a base salary of $100,000.
Jowett continued to work on the hearing loss litigation until she went on maternity leave in 1996. Another attorney took over the litigation at the time that Jowett began her leave. In 1997, Jowett returned to SMLBD. She and Scruggs executed a written agreement, effective on January 1, 1997, that modified the 1995 employment contract. Jowett would receive $100,000 annual salary, $110,360 cash, a possible annual bonus to be determined by the board of directors, one-third of the net fees received by SMLBD for the hearing loss cases, and $3,000 per month for rent and supplies for an Ocean Springs office.
Jowett opened an office in Ocean Springs under the name of Juliet Jowett, P.A. All advertisements and contracts with clients were done under this name and not SMLBD. Jowett kept all fees from this firm and did no further work for SMLBD. However, she continued to receive the contracted-for salary from SMLBD along with the $3,000 per month for expenses.
On February 13, 1998, Scruggs sent Jowett a letter advising her that she would be terminated sixty days from the date of the letter. Her termination was ratified by the firm on October 14, 1999.
During the period of Jowett’s work with Scruggs, litigation on behalf of the State against major tobacco companies was brought. See In re Fordice, 691 So. 2d 429, 430-31 (Miss. 1997) (only reported decision on this tobacco litigation; that appeal contested but the Court did not resolve the authority of the state’s attorney general to employ SMLBD and other private law firms). In October 1997, there was an agreement involving the amount of payments by the defendants to the plaintiff-states, but there was no agreement as to attorneys’ fees. In December 1997, the settlement was approved with a provision for arbitration to determine attorneys’ fees. In July 1998, the law firm, now Scruggs, Millette, Bozeman & Dent, P.A., received its first advance fee payment.
On February 26, 1998, Jowett filed suit against Scruggs and the firm in federal court on the basis of sex discrimination and other employment claims. This case was eventually dismissed with prejudice. On January 12, 1999, Jowett filed this complaint with the Chancery Court of Jackson County. In two phases of trial, the judge found that Jowett was entitled to $184,156 for income that was not distributed to her, taxable for the year 1997. He also found that the values of her shares of stock was $234,053.84.
Dissatisfied with these awards, Jowett appeals…
Jowett divides her appellate arguments into fourteen issues. We find the division to be somewhat unwieldy in analyzing what is before us. The following is our path to a conclusion: (1) was Jowett properly expelled as a shareholder; (2) if so, what is the date to value her shares; (3) what was the value of her shareholder interest on that date; (4) was there a breach of fiduciary duty owed by Scruggs or others to Jowett; (5) should punitive damages and her attorney’s fees be awarded?
The Court’s decision speaks to similar issues in Luckey and Wilson in a way contrary to common thinking.
Jowett argues that she should have received a greater sum for her shares in SMLBD than Scruggs has offered. She also argues that his breaches of fiduciary duty are so egregious, that they rise to a level deserving punitive damages. We have upheld the finding that there was no breach of a fiduciary duty. There was no basis to award punitive damages.
THE JUDGMENT OF THE CHANCERY COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY IS AFFIRMED. ALL COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE TAXED TO THE APPELLANTS.
Once we have the indictment, I’ll set USA v DeLaughter up under legal. Until then, Jowett provides fresh food for thought about the agreements Scruggs had with Luckey and Wilson.
Jowett opened her own firm and received a salary and benefits package from SMLBD, yet did not do any work for that firm beginning in 1997. Based on the evidence, we find that the chancellor did not err when he interpreted that the value of Jowett’s stock would include cost advances but would not include accounts receivable.
Save room for desert – Sin and Sorrow, part 2 – will be served later.