Anti-tobacco lawyer’s son sentenced in bribe plan

Published 6:58 pm Thursday, July 3, 2008

Attorney Zach Scruggs was sentenced Wednesday to 14 months in prison for not alerting authorities to the bribery scandal that entangled his father, famed plaintiffs lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs.

The sentence included a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors had recommended probation for misprision of a felony, which meant he had knowledge of a crime and didn’t report it.

“Your case is a sad case, Mr. Scruggs, as your attorney eloquently stated,” U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. said during sentencing. “The primary actor in this case was your father. It would not have happened without him. And it makes it even sadder that you, his son, was brought into it.”

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Zach and Dickie Scruggs and a law partner were indicted in November after an associate secretly recorded conversations about a plan to bribe a judge.

Prosecutors said the goal was to get a favorable ruling in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.

Dickie Scruggs was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His former law partner, Sidney Backstrom, was sentenced to two years and four months in prison and fined $250,000.

Biggers followed prosecutors’ recommendations in sentencing the elder Scruggs and Backstrom, but he had expressed displeasure with Zach Scruggs’ lack of remorse in the past. The judge apparently was not swayed by Zach Scruggs’ statement to the court.

“I am deeply sorry and regretful for my involvement in this case. I wish that I could go back and change what happened a year ago,” Zach Scruggs told the judge. “And I should have stopped what happened, and I should have objected to what happened; and I didn’t do that.”

Zach Scruggs, 34, requested that he be allowed to report to prison after the birth of his third child in October. Biggers said he’ll consider it.

Dickie Scruggs, 62, became one of the wealthiest civil lawsuit attorneys in the country and gained fame in the 1990s by using a corporate insider against tobacco companies in lawsuits that resulted in a $206 billion settlement. The case was portrayed in the 1999 film “The Insider.”

In sentencing Dickie Scruggs last Friday, Biggers said it was clear that Zach also participated in the scheme to influence Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey to send the case to arbitration.

Zach Scruggs “looked at the order, proposed order, made comments on it before it was to be submitted to Judge Lackey; and he was there when this scheme first started,” Biggers said.

Two others, Timothy Balducci, who delivered $40,000 in cash to the judge, and former Mississippi Auditor Steve Patterson, had already pleaded guilty in the case. They have been cooperating with investigators and await sentencing.

The Mississippi Supreme Court will consider disbarment petitions against Dickie and Zach Scruggs and Backstrom in the July-August term.