Former Miss. attorney general helping defend Zach Scruggs

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore has notified court officials that he is helping defend Richard “Dickie” Scruggs’ son and law partner, Zach, against judicial bribery charges.

As attorney general, Moore teamed up with Richard Scruggs in 1994 to sue tobacco companies over the Medicaid costs of treating sick smokers. They negotiated a 1997 settlement that is bringing Mississippi $4 billion over 25 years. Their work with a corporate whistleblower on the tobacco litigation was depicted in the 1999 film “The Insider,” starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

In a written statement Monday, Moore said he has known Zach Scruggs, 33, since he was a child.

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“He asked me to represent him should his case ever get to trial. Zach is innocent of the charges pressed against him, and we look forward to his exoneration,” said Moore, who chose not to seek re-election as attorney general in 2003.

Zach Scruggs’ trial is scheduled to start March 31 in Oxford.

Of the five people charged in November with participating in the alleged scheme to bribe Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey, the younger Scruggs is the only defendant who hasn’t pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge.

“We’re preparing for the trial,” Todd Graves, one of his defense attorneys, said Monday.

Richard Scruggs and Scruggs Law Firm attorney Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty Friday to felony charges of conspiring to bribe Lackey.

Graves said extensive media coverage of Richard Scruggs’ guilty plea may have tainted the pool of prospective jurors for his son’s trial.

“I think it makes it very difficult to get an unbiased jury,” Graves said.

The Mississippi Bar Association said Richard Scruggs will lose his license to practice law because of the felony conviction. He and his son already had withdrawn from most of the cases they filed against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina.