It began in 1994 in Hinds County Circuit Court when Alwyn Luckey sued his two former law partners, Scruggs and Scruggs’ then-law partner, William Roberts Wilson Jr., for what Luckey’s contract called for – 25 percent of the attorney fees from litigation against asbestos manufacturers.
Wilson countersued Scruggs for monies he said he was owed from the firm. Scruggs, who had regularly been sending checks to Wilson, stopped.
What followed over the next dozen years was “the most contentious litigation I’ve been involved in in my 40-year career,” said Merkel, who represented Wilson and Luckey.
Later, Wilson and Luckey tried to amend their claims, saying Scruggs used their money to subsidize his next successful class-action case, this one against tobacco companies.
“If you steal my $100 and go out and buy a lottery ticket and win a $1 million, you can’t just pay me back my $100 with a nice note,” Merkel said. “I also get your $1 million in lottery winnings.”
In 2001, Hinds County Circuit Judge L. Breland Hilburn blocked the claim, saying it was too late to amend the complaint.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys took the matter to federal court, with U.S. District Judge Tom Lee ultimately sending it back to Hinds County to decide the attorney fees in the asbestos litigation so the tobacco-related attorney fees could be resolved. DeLaughter, who got the case, appointed Bobby Sneed as a special master.
In 2004, Oxford lawyer Jack Dunbar invited Jones and Steven Funderburg, another Jackson lawyer, to help represent Scruggs.
The cases of Luckey and Wilson ended up being separated into two lawsuits.
In Luckey’s case, lawyers agreed to have U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis of Aberdeen hear the case without a jury.
In 2005, Davis ruled in Luckey’s favor, saying Scruggs owed him more than $17 million.
“While the court’s findings in this regard could support an award of punitive damages, the court finds the award of attorneys’ fees and expenses is sufficient,” Davis wrote.