Trial lawyers caught bribing judges and public officials?! Say it ain’t so. Unfortunately, other than a headline or two, the story of Dickie Scruggs’ trial and prosecution hasn’t incited near the outrage it should.
Last month Scruggs was given the maximum 5 year $250,000 sentence in a plea bargain for his attempt to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey for a favorable ruling in a hurricane Katrina case. But ongoing investigations are unearthing much, much more as the money trail between Scruggs and a host of judges, politicians, and public officials come to light.
Among them: Scruggs donated $300,000 and his buddy Joey Langston kicked in an additional $100,000 to the Democratic Attorney Generals Association. Shortly after that the DAGA donated $400,000 to Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood. (Scruggs also gave $44,000 directly to Hood’s campaign).
According to an FBI report, Scruggs then offered two other attorneys named in the judicial bribery scheme half a million dollars to ask Hood not to pursue criminal charges against State Farm Insurance after Katrina so that Scruggs’ newly-formed Katrina Group could cash in on the action first. Hood, of course helped Dickie Scruggs out, eventually going so far as to take possession of documents stolen from State Farm by two sisters working on Katrina cases so that Scruggs wouldn’t have to turn them over to federal prosecutors.
Dozens of other cases involving Scruggs, Paul Minor, and others show a pattern of Mississippi trial lawyers bribing judges and public officials with loan guarantees, loan repayments, laundered campaign contributions and rent-free living arrangements.
Dickie Scruggs loaned $75,000 to Ronnie Musgrove and $500,000 to Amy Tuck when both were candidates for Lieutenant Governor. I wonder how those payment plans are coming along … Do they have a coupon book and make monthly payments? What’s the interest rate? And how does someone get a half million dollar loan on a Lieutenant Governor salary of $60,000?
Poking fun of politically connected fat cats is easy, but what do Dickie Scruggs’ crimes have to do with you? Plenty. Corruption of public officials does far more damage to the average citizen than any robber wielding a gun.
Trial lawyers who pervert our justice systems in order to win huge settlements cost everyone who owns a home or business through higher premiums and increased liability.
Scruggs and his ilk claim to represent the little guy against big insurance companies. But the system they perpetuate ensures that the little guy can’t get a fair shake unless he pays a dishonest broker to mediate on their behalf.
Hundreds of Mississippians including a former governor wrote letters to the judge in Scruggs’ case pleading for leniency. “Any time he spends being incarcerated is an absolute waste of a great deal of talent and ability…Furthermore, it would appear to be a waste of taxpayer’s money,” wrote Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, “Punishment is relative to the individual.”
I couldn’t disagree more. Justice should be dispensed just as surely to the powerful and well-connected as anyone else. And I wish prosecutors in the ongoing investigations happy hunting following every dishonest dollar to every dishonest official no matter where the trail may lead.
Craig Ziemba is a military pilot who lives in Meridian. To have Craig speak at your event, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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