Scruggs contempt case reassigned to Florida judge

Published 6:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2007

The criminal contempt case of Mississippi trial lawyer Richard Scruggs was reassigned to a Florida judge Wednesday because 16 federal judges in north Alabama recused themselves from the case.

C. Roger Vinson, Northern District of Florida, will preside in the case in which Scruggs is accused of disobeying an order by failing to turn over Katrina-related insurance documents to a court.

The 16 district judges and magistrate judges in north Alabama agreed to recuse themselves last month at the request of Scruggs. His lawyers contend none of them should hear the case since they are colleagues of U.S. District Judge William Acker, who initiated the criminal contempt prosecution.

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Acker appointed three special prosecutors to handle the criminal contempt case after U.S. Attorney Alice Martin in Birmingham, Ala., declined to pursue it.

The contempt charge accuses Scruggs of disobeying Acker’s order to return all documents he received from sisters Kerri and Cori Rigsby, two whistleblowers who worked for a company that was serving as a claims contractor for State Farm Insurance Co. after Katrina.

The records were sought by lawyers for Birmingham-based E.A. Renfroe and Co.

Scruggs gave the documents to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood instead of the judge and maintains Acker’s order provided that documents taken from State Farm could be disclosed to law enforcement officials, including Hood’s office.

Scruggs, who is one of the nation’s most famous trial lawyers, was named in a six-count federal indictment that maintains he and four others conspired to bribe a judge.

The bribery charges arose from a lawsuit filed against Scruggs by another law firm that wants a bigger cut of at least $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of policyholder lawsuits over Hurricane Katrina damage.