A federal grand jury today indicted one of the nation’s most successful trial lawyers, Richard F. Scruggs, on criminal charges that he and other lawyers engaged in a scheme to bribe a judge.
A 13-page indictment accuses Mr. Scruggs, along with his son and law partner, Zach Scruggs, and three other lawyers, of conspiring to bribe a state Circuit Court judge, Henry Lackey, with more than $40,000 in cash.The lawyers tried to get Judge Lackey to sign an order in a civil lawsuit filed by a law firm that accused Mr. Scruggs of withholding fees for work on Hurricane Katrina insurance litigation, according to the indictment.
The indictment says Judge Lackey, who sits in Mississippi’s Third Circuit Court District, reported the “bribery overture” to federal authorities and agreed to assist investigators in an “undercover capacity.”
The charges against him include one count of defrauding the federal government and two counts of wire fraud.
Also named as defendants in the indictment are: Sidney Backstrom, a lawyer in Mr. Scruggs’s firm; Timothy Balducci, a lawyer in New Albany, Miss.; and Steven Patterson, an employee of Mr. Balducci’s firm.
Joey Langston, a lawyer for Mr. Scruggs’ Oxford law firm, did not immediately return a reporter’s telephone call this evening.
Mr. Scruggs, whose brother-in-law is Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, earned millions from asbestos litigation and from his role in brokering a multibillion-dollar settlement with tobacco companies in the mid-1990s. After Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005, the Gulf Coast native sued insurers on behalf of hundreds of policyholders whose claims were denied after the storm.
On Tuesday, F.B.I. agents searched Mr. Scruggs’s law offices and left with copies of computer hard drives, Mr. Langston said before the indictments were handed up today.
Mr. Langston, who represents Mr. Scruggs’ firm but is not an employee, said the agents were looking for a document with an “ancillary” connection to lawsuits that Mr. Scruggs’s firm has filed against insurance companies over their handling of Hurricane Katrina claims.