Internet traffic caused our main site to go down.
As has been posted, this morning in open court, Richard Scruggs and Sid Backstrom pled guilty to conspiracy to bribe a state court judge. This was a remarkable and sad event. And then the server blew up as I tried to post. Here’s at summary level what occurred:
Richard Scruggs is pleading to conspiracy to bribe a state court judge, count 1 of the indictment, with other counts to be dismissed. This was an open plea, that is, no recommended sentence.
The government expects that he will get the full five year sentence on that count.
Scruggs is still in jeopardy from the investigation into whether the judge was bribed in Wilson v. Scruggs. Prosecutor Tom Dawson said: “I want to make it painfully clear as to the investigation with respect to the Wilson case: This has no effect on a subsequent investigation as to that case.” Reading between the lines, I would take it to mean that the Scruggs plea only resolves his exposure on the Lackey bribe issue. That is remarkable.
There was no mention of cooperation by Scruggs.
Sid Backstrom also pled guilty to count 1, with other charges dropped.
Sid Backstrom is agreeing to cooperate. What that means was not explained, although I would think this means he will be a witness against Zach Scruggs.
The government does not think Backstrom is the subject of any other investigation, although they did not agree to anything about that.
Zach Scruggs’s case is not resolved. It is still set for trial at the end of the month, 200 potential jurors have been summonsed, and Judge Biggers seems determined to keep that date.
Zach Scruggs’s lawyers are going to file some motions relating to how this changes the case, unless they can work out the changes with the government. This relates to the 404(b) evidence—they are obviously going to argue that the other crime evidence was aimed at Richard Scruggs and not Zach and that it should not come in. I’ll make no prediction about that.
There was an interesting and unusual disagreement with the government’s statement of facts in the plea colloquy. The government stated in its facts for both Backstrom and Scruggs that a conspiracy began in March to corruptly influence the state court judge, and Scruggs spoke to say that he had agreed to earwig the judge but not corruptly influence him in March, and that he later agreed to join a conspiracy to corruptly influence the judge. Sid Backstrom took a similar stance. The judge then broke down the elements of the offense for Backstrom and took the plea.
I find it most remarkable that this left so many open issues. The government surrendered neither its case against Zach nor other criminal investigations against Dickie Scruggs to get a guilty plea. More about this later.