Famed attorney told to answer questions about leaked Katrina documents

A federal judge has ruled that Scruggs and his son and law partner, Zach, can be questioned under oath about their handling of leaked documents in a Hurricane Katrina insurance case. The order is unusual because Scruggs is an attorney in the case, and his deposition testimony could be used by the opposing side.

“Although rarely allowed, depositions of a party’s counsel are not altogether prohibited,” U.S. Magistrate Robert H. Walker wrote Wednesday. “Where the attorney has non-privileged, relevant information unavailable by other means, such depositions have been allowed.”

The order is not related to a bribery indictment that accuses Scruggs, his son and several associates of paying a judge $40,000 for a favorable ruling. Instead, the order was issued in a lawsuit that Scruggs filed on behalf of Thomas and Pamela McIntosh, of Biloxi, against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

The lawsuit accuses an engineering firm, working for Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, of producing conflicting reports on the cause of storm damage to the couple’s home. Scruggs says one of the reports is fraudulent and was designed to deny the McIntosh’s insurance claim.

The reports were given to Scruggs in February 2006 by Cori and Kerri Rigsby, sisters from Ocean Springs who worked for E.A. Renfroe, a State Farm-affiliated engineering company, according to court records.

Scruggs claims the documents indicate that State Farm pressured its engineers to change their reports on storm damage so that claims could be denied after the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane. The Rigsby sisters copied thousands of internal State Farm claims records and provided them to Scruggs. Scruggs calls the sisters “whistleblowers,” but they also worked as consultants making $150,000 a year, according to court records.

The judge’s ruling is simply stating that not every question asked of Scruggs will be covered by attorney-client privilege, but it’s not clear exactly what questions he’ll have to answer, said John Keker, a San Francisco attorney who is part of Scruggs’ legal team.