An unmatched glimpse into the anatomy of Big Plaintiff law
by Alan Lange
As we have been following for some time now, both on YallPolitics and through the book Kings of Tort, there has been a ton of activity in the Qui Tam case filed against State Farm in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A few weeks ago, Scruggs PR firm, the Rendon Group in Washington DC, was compelled to produce documents and email traffic pertaining to the case. They tried to claim a legal work product privilege, but the judge didn't buy it. Late last week, State Farm attached a selection of these emails from the discovery and the result is an absolutely breathtaking glimpse into the role that PR firms play in Big Plaintiff Law cases. The bottom line is that the PR firm played a bigger role in these cases than the lawyers.
I never thought there would be enough material in the Scruggs saga for a follow up book. Now, I am forced to rethink that a bit. With over 400 pages, the email list in pdf form, is a lot to take in. This is by no means ALL of the email traffic between the Scruggs team and their PR firm and it may not even be the most interesting, but for those that followed the saga online or in the book, trust me when I say that it reads like a book you can't put down.
There are several things that distinctly stood out to me. You may read it and see something completely different, but here are a few selected thoughts from my notes.
Scruggs team was obsessed about trying to give the Rigsby Gals credibility.
Starting on Pages 11 and 12, they start to think of ways to get them a "whistleblower" award of some sort and do all sorts of calling and research. On pages 18-27, they start to list the potential awards for the Gals. Then, on page 29, Ainsley Perrien with Rendon says that she will solicit help from Trent Lott's office.
I put in a call to Trent Lott's office to see if they could help on the awards...I'll let you know if I come up with anything on that front.
That's a seemingly cavalier attitude with regards to Lott's cooperation and seems to indicate that Lott was fully on board and working behind the scenes to advance the case both as a plaintiff against State Farm and as a US Senator.
On page 128, more effort is put forth and one of the researchers suggests that Scruggs should, in essence, buy an award for the Rigsby Gals.
Rob mentioned that one of the research projects you had asked him some time ago is to look into whether there is a “Whistleblower of the Year” type of award.
Although I don’t know of such a thing, I have worked with a few organizations in the past who have worked to highlight what whistleblowers do. We could get in touch with them and make sure they’re aware of the Rigsby case. Also, they’re always happy to receive contributions, so the Scruggs folks could think about sponsoring a body of work that would lead to establishing a Whistleblower of the Year award.
By the way, there's a rather humorous exchange about Rendon asking the Rigsby Gals to submit photos on PP 134-138. Rendon staff's reactions are shall we say a bit snarky towards the Gals.
Finally, on page 140, Dickie suggests to Perrien (seriously) that the Rigsby Gals should be nominated for a Nobel Prize.
Hi -- I spoke to Dick about 11 times yesterday.. You really fired him up. Now he wants me to get the sisters nominiated for a Nobel prize. Think big he told me.
If Obama could win one for being in office less than 3 months, I guess there's a chance.
Obsession with Rossmiller and the blogs
It was quite clear throughout that the Scruggs inner sanctum and the PR team was simultaneously obsessed and flummoxed with the blogosphere. David Rossmiller at the now inactive Insurance Coverage Blog seemed to be the biggest burr in their saddle in the early 2007 time period. It was a recurring theme throughout the documents.
There was a fascinating exchange between Zach Scruggs and Ainsley Perrien on p 351 talking about Zach blogging and how CottonMouth and Anna Marie were controlled surrogates for the Scruggs camp.
From: Zach Scruggs
To: Ainsley Perrien
Subject: RE: Website
Date: Monday, November 12, 2007 3:58:59 PM
SURE, and don’t get me wrong I like bloging every now and again but I don’t think its appropriate for me to be the one to respond to all Rossmiller’s crap and get dragged into a distracting blog debate with him that will only pump him up even more. I don’t think SKG should either. I think we need surrogates to do that, like what Wayne does with Anna- Marie and cotton mouth. He must be exposed and I shouldn’t have to be the one to do it, get some background on this guy, his resume, his experience, etc.
For example: This guy has never set foot in Mississippi, never set foot in a Mississippi courtroom, has no specialized knowledge or any experience in Mississippi insurance law, never tried a criminal case, never worked for an attorney general, never been involved in Mississippi politics, and never litigated or tried a qui tam case. Yet, he seems to have an opinion that newspapers value on all this stuff he knows nothing about and has no experience in (like the ethics and legality of an attorney general negotiating a settlement with a civil or criminal defendant or whether our qui tam case caused retaliation from renfroe). Come on, that is ridiculous. He is an Oregon defense lawyer for god sake.
Other than staying at a Holiday Inn express last night he has no basis to be able to opine on any of this stuff and that must be exposed to the journalist who don’t know any better and who are looking for a cheep quick quote. EXPOSE HIM!
We also need a guy – not necessarily Harry – to constantly post comments on all Rossmiller’s blogs and overtake it with our propaganda, just as they did to us. I cannot think of everything and you know how to do all this better than me.
Most interesting was the fact that the Scruggs inner sanctum led by Derek Wyatt seriously contemplated commencing legal action (pages 375-405) against Rossmiller and was talked down off the ledge by Don Barrett (p 438).
Jim Hood unfiltered to Scruggs's inner sanctum
MS Attorney General Jim Hood makes a cameo appearance. He drafted a response to a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the WSJ's op-ed "actionable and compensable for libel".
From: jim hood [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2007 5:48 AM
Subject: Draft Response to Another Wall Street Journal Attack
Please e-mail me your thoughts on this draft response to the attached article in today's Wall Street Journal. Don't worry, this is just my initial venting draft.
In your March 15, 2007, "Review and Outlook" article, you state that the Mississippi versus State Farm litigation is worthy of novel by Mississippi's own John Grisham. Your extremely biased version is just that - fiction. Your statement that "We're also told that Mr. Hood exerted pressure on State Farm to settle not just with the state, but also with Mr. Scruggs . . . .", is actionable and compensable for libel. It is obvious why you use the term "we are told". It is because in your tirade to develop this biased diatribe
you made up this lie. I demand that you retract this allegation and reveal who "told" you this!
The entire article is based upon a false premise, which your biased editors failed to recognize. The documents you claim State Farm so desperately needed to defend itself were in its possession all along. The confidential informants merely made copies.
The litigation filed in Alabama federal court to recover the documents was nothing but an attempt by State Farm to intimidated the State of Mississippi's confidential informants and obtain information presented to a Mississippi Grand Jury. The only difference between State Farm's attempt to intimidate the State's grand jury witnesses and that of a mob threat, is it used its money and lawyers to use a federal court.
The use of confidential informants to expose criminal conduct is a crucial to law enforcement. The evidence confidential informants bring to law enforcement agencies may involve crimes ranging from crimes on the street or in the boardrooms. Billion dollar companies do not settle when they have done nothing wrong. The fact that a State Farm adjuster attached a post-it note on an engineering report that said, "Do not pay this bill. Do not talk about this.", should make even your biased editors wonder what they were hiding. They were attempting to hide the fact that the first engineering report found that wind caused the damage, while the a second engineering report given eight days later attributed the cause to water. They hid the first engineering report and denied payment of the claim based upon the second report.
The next time that you attempt to defend one of your poor, innocent corporate barons and blame law enforcement, you should get the facts straight. Moreover, you should at least reveal your bias to your readers by releasing how much insurance and related companies pay your journal annually.
From start to finish, this is the "how-to" manual for how the truly elite plaintiffs lawyers work their system, which depends vitally on PR. There's no question that both sides have and use PR folks strategically, but I doubt we've ever seen an inside example of out the PR is interwoven with the political side with access into Attorneys General, US Senators and others holding true power to push for a particular end.
We will keep watching.
Posted July 27, 2010 - 2:50 pm
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