UPDATE: Scruggs, Backstrom plead guilty

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Norman, the younger Scruggs will be on trial as planned, but unconfirmed statements in court earlier this morning hinted at a later date than March 31, which was the date set by Senior Judge Neal Biggers Jr. to prosecute the three together.

The guilty pleas came as a surprise to many in the packed courtroom, although some observers said they had thought it was a possibility.

The government recommended a sentence of five years in prison for Scruggs and 2 1/2 years for Backstrom. They also will pay a maximum fine of $250,000 each and a court fee.

The Scruggses, Backstrom, former New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci and former state Auditor Steven Patterson were indicted Nov. 28 on six counts of conspiring to bribe Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City for an arbitration order in a $26.5 million Katrina legal-fees lawsuit.

Balducci and Patterson pleaded guilty a short time later and have been cooperating with the government against the other three.

The courtroom looked different from previous hearings – none of the defense team was seated in the railed-in area near the judge’s bench until seconds before the 10 a.m. start time.

Then, the bailiff told them “the judge is ready” and they filed back into his chambers for a discussion known only to them.

It also was different because Dickie Scruggs’ wife was in the courtroom, which was something new. Her eyes were filled with tears, as were Backstrom’s even before the proceedings began.

And Zach Scruggs was not in the courtroom, although his Missouri attorneys were. They had plans to argue his renewed motion to dismiss his indictment.

Before Biggers accepted their pleas, Scruggs and Backstrom admitted in open court that they had done what the government said they had done in Count One – they had conspired to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey of Calhoun City for a favorable order in a Katrina-related legal fees case.

When it was Backstrom’s turn to speak, he began quietly, “I want to apologize to the court…” then his voice trailed off as he broke down, his voice choked with emotion.

NE MS Daily Journal
3/14/8