Miss. lawyer Zach Scruggs to report to prison

Published 6:36 pm Friday, August 15, 2008

There was a time when Zach Scruggs seemed poised to follow his father to the top of the legal profession. Instead, he reports to prison Friday for knowing about the judicial bribery scheme that also landed his father behind bars.

Zach Scruggs, the 34-year-old son of once legendary civil lawsuit attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, is to begin a 14-month sentence at a federal prison camp in Forrest City, Ark.

The senior Scruggs and a law partner have already reported to prison.

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Dickie Scruggs, 62, gained fame in the 1990s by using a corporate insider in lawsuits against tobacco companies that resulted in a multibillion-dollar nationwide settlement. After graduating cum laude from law school, Zach Scruggs joined his father’s successful firm.

Their undoing came last year in a battle with other lawyers over $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.

The Scruggses and several associates were indicted in November and accused of conspiring to bribe the judge with $50,000 for a favorable ruling.

Father and son worked out deals in hopes of keeping the younger Scruggs out of prison. Dickie Scruggs pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to five years.

Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, meaning he knew about the crime and did not tell authorities. Prosecutors recommended probation.

Instead, Zach Scruggs and his attorneys were stunned in the courtroom when U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. sentenced him to more than a year.

“Not only did we expect probation, nobody goes to prison for misprision of a felony. So it was a pretty shocking turnaround that day,” Zach Scruggs’ lawyer, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, said Thursday.

Moore said Zach Scruggs got caught up simply by knowing his father and others were attempting to influence a judge.

“If he found out anything had been done, what was he going to do, call the police on his father?” Moore asked. “It was a very sad set of facts.”

The judge, however, said during sentencing that Zach Scruggs was caught on tape discussing the wording of a corrupt court order they wanted the judge to issue.

It “was just clear that you not only knew what was going on, you were participating in what was going on,” Biggers said. “You helped write that order.”

Still, Moore says, Zach Scruggs “certainly had nothing to do with bribing a judge. They had very little, if any, proof that Zach was involved at all.”

Dickie Scruggs is serving his time in a prison in Kentucky. Law partner Sidney Backstrom, who also pleaded guilty to conspiracy, is serving a 28-month sentence in the same prison where Zach Scruggs is headed.

Two others who pleaded guilty in the case are cooperating with authorities and have not been sentenced. Authorities continue to investigate at least one other case in which Dickie Scruggs’ associates say he tried to influence a different judge.