The letters were addressed to Senior Judge Neal Biggers Jr., who holds their fate in his hands. They were made available to a few reporters Wednesday, and I was one of them.
Learning their fate will climax months of legal action against them from a six-count federal indictment that they bribed a circuit judge. May 14, they pleaded guilty.
Over and over, many letter-writers said the same things: I request leniency and compassion. He is a decent, honest, caring father/son/citizen. His incarceration will be a terrible waste of a talented human being.
The letters were from the famous and the not-so-famous.
There were noticeable absences – no letters from former Sen. Trent Lott, Scruggs’ brother-in-law, or longtime ally and former state Attorney General Mike Moore.
Both men had impassioned letters from Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat.
Many of Backstrom’s letters were from church friends, especially from Oxford-University United Methodist Church, and friends he had made along the way growing up or helping with legal problems.
Scruggs’ came from his Ole Miss network, famous people and the legal community in which he had plied his trade so successfully through the years.
They both got support from “the little people,” the victims of Hurricane Katrina, whom they had assisted for claims against the big insurance companies, or other legal cases.
But a few people asked Biggers to punish them fully.
Here are some examples of pro and con letters:
His wife, Kelli:
“I won’t minimize the huge mistake he has made, but I would like to give you a genuine snapshot’ of the man that I have loved for over 20 years. I cannot sleep at night thinking of this whole situation and how Sid will sit before you, with his future in your hands, and Your Honor only knowing the details of this ONE lapse in judgment.”
His grandmother, Carolyn Murphree Backstrom, 91, of Oxford:
“I have never known him to engage in any misbehavior or unethical practices. He has lived a straightforward, Christian life.”
His pastor, Warren Black:
“His remorse is genuine. He truly desires to begin again. Justice tempered with qualities of mercy is a hallmark of our judicial system.”
Chancellor Robert Khayat:
“Backstrom family members have been personal friends of my family and me for three generations. This letter will express my unqualified respect for him as a person and as a lawyer. No doubt punishment must be imposed for his plea, but it seems a waste to incarcerate a man who has lived a sterling life, is not a threat to society and has been severely penalized by the loss of his license to practice law. I pray you will not send this fine young man to jail.”
Attorney Don Barrett, a partner in the Scruggs Katrina Group:
“I am shocked by what he did and I believe that Sid, looking back, is shocked by what he did also. He is broken, contrite and filled with remorse.”
Margaret and Michael Graber of Oxford:
“Sid Backstrom is the type of neighbor one is lucky to have.”
Jane Quinn of Daphne, Ala.:
“While living on Columbus Drive, Dickie started his work on behalf of shipyard workers exposed to asbestos. My Daddy had died several years before with lung cancer. After talking with Dickie, I gave him permission to check Daddy’s medical records. They confirmed that he had died of Mesothelioma. I will always be indebted to him for taking my case.”
Former Gov. William Winter:
He wrote his letter, he said, out of “genuine interest in and concern for a longtime friend who has made a grievous mistake.”
David Howorth of Oxford, attorney:
“I am writing to request that Mr. Richard Scruggs be given the severest possible sentence under the law.”
Terrell Price of Tupelo:
“He did not think of the reputation of the University, Oxford, the judicial system of which he was a part or the people of Mississippi. He became twisted and lost all sense of morality for a $26 million judgment. I hope your judgment will render a punishment that will reflect well on the people’s reputation, the same reputation Mr. Scruggs besmirched.”
Lowell Bergman, reporter/TV journalist portrayed in the movie “The Insider:”
“Over the years, I have interviewed, profiled and worked with countless members of the Bar all over this country. None have impressed me more than Richard Dick’ Scruggs. Without Mr. Scruggs, the revelations that appeared in court proceedings and the media about the tobacco industry, as well as the unprecedented settlements, simply would not have happened. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of consideration, kindness and compassion.”
Matthew Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the efforts of Dick Scruggs and his colleagues have saved millions of people from a premature death caused by tobacco.”
Pete Boone, Ole Miss athletics
“Judge Biggers, contrary to popular belief, Dick has never qualified the use of his jet or even asked the purpose of the trip. He has never recommended a head coach, but was simply there to support the administration’s decision.”
Aubrey Lucas, former president, University of Southern Mississippi:
“Even in the face of his current challenges, I can tell you honestly that I maintain much respect for Dick Scruggs.”
Jeffrey Wigand, who blew the whistle on Big Tobacco, focus of the movie “The Insider:”
“When I first learned of the issue that has caused Dickie’s current situation, I was shocked as well as others that know or have worked with him. How could a man with such a strong moral fiber err like this? I owe Dickie my life, my success in getting the truth to the world, … a bond of friendship that was made in the caldron of molting steel, always faithful when needed and a source of unfettered moral guidance. Without Dickie, this all would be impossible. The world is a better place due to his unique contributions to the public, his generous philanthropy and his unfettered devotion to his profession, family and friends.”
Dennis Conner, San Diego yatchs man and winner of the America’s Cup:
“I know Dick to be a loyal friend and patriotic American. I think Dick is a great guy, a real friend who helps people when they really need it and a person who has helped make dreams come true.”
Chancellor Robert Khayat:
“A small example of his compassion and generosity are the plane rides he has provided to people in life-threatening situations, most notably Ole Miss’ former Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, the late Johnny Williams. Johnny, like many beneficiaries of Dick’s generosity, was a virtual stranger to him. A man who is willing to help strangers is a man with depth and decency.”
Bo Bowen, former Ole Miss athlete and Jackson insurance executive:
Scruggs bought life insurance through Bowen for his family’s benefit, in the event of his untimely death. “Men who do not love their families do not purchase life insurance.”
NEMS Daily Journal