Stern justice — Biggers’ sentences reflect gravity of bribe offenses

Dickie Scruggs, Zach Scruggs, and Backstrom, all of Oxford and in the same firm, Timothy Balducci and former state Treasurer Steve Patterson (a non-lawyer and former employee of Balducci’s defunct law firm), both of New Albany, in the Lackey case; and,

Joey Langston, a noted Booneville attorney, in a separate case involving attempts to illegally influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter of Jackson. DeLaughter has not been indicted.

Patterson and Langston have not been sentenced and are cooperating with federal investigators. Investigations are believed to be continuing on several levels.

Biggers’ order on Wednesday, which observers said visibly stunned many in the courtroom as Scruggs stood expressionless, is appropriately punitive.

Zach Scruggs’ conduct demonstrated cynical disregard for his oath as an attorney, for the judicial system, and for simple honesty and personal integrity.

Biggers, who was a state circuit judge from Corinth for nine years before confirmation to the bench in U.S. District Court for Northern Mississippi in 1984, went beyond prosecutors’ recommendation of probation and a fine, but he did not sentence the younger Scruggs to the maximum three years allowed under sentencing guidelines.

The sentences and fines reflect the damage done to the reputation of the legal profession in our state. Biggers said flatly during his sentencing last week of Richard Scruggs that it appeared the conspiracy to bribe Lackey came easily to Scruggs, suggesting that the elder Scruggs may have done the same thing in other instances.

It is worthy of note that another high-profile plaintiffs’ attorney, Paul Minor, is serving an 11-year federal sentence on judicial corruption charges involving state judges on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Minor is incarcerated in the same prison in Florida to which Scruggs is expected to be taken in August.

The Mississippi bar should undertake an expansive self-examination of the full sweep of attorneys’ and judges’ behavior:

The financial influences in play within the defense and plaintiff sectors of the bar; and, in a separate issue,

The risks inherent in electing judges who become dependent on increasingly large sums of special-interest donations - across the political spectrum – for financing campaigns.

The damage and consequences of the judicial bribery cases are not confined to the guilty, their families, the courts, or the judges.

NE MS Daily Journal