An insurance company’s attorney suggested during a sworn deposition that former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott urged witnesses to give false information in a Hurricane Katrina lawsuit, according to court records.

The implication was made last week during a deposition with Lott’s nephew, Zach Scruggs, who represented the former Mississippi Republican senator after his Pascagoula home was destroyed by the 2005 storm. Zach Scruggs is the son and law partner of disgraced former attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, Lott’s brother-in-law.

“Has it been your custom and habit in prosecuting litigation to have Senator Lott contact and encourage witnesses to give false information?” State Farm Fire & Casualty Cos. attorney Jim Robie asked, according to a transcript of the deposition.

“I invoke my Fifth Amendment rights in response to that question,” Zach Scruggs responded.

State Farm lawyers also suggested that Richard Scruggs directed the Rigsby sisters to steal State Farm documents. The lawyers suggested that Richard Scruggs then allegedly told Mississippi Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood to subpoena the documents as part of a criminal investigation.

“General Hood subpoenaed the document, State Farm couldn’t produce it, and you were able to report to the press that they were shredding or deep sixing or destroying evidence that you knew they didn’t have; isn’t that a fact?” State Farm attorney Jim Robie asked during the deposition.

“I respectfully decline to answer based on my Fifth Amendment privilege,” Scruggs replied.

State Farm has accused Hood of using the threat of criminal charges to pressure the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurer to settle civil claims with attorneys like Scruggs, who donated heavily to Hood’s campaigns. In a statement Wednesday, Hood said after Katrina, his job was “to safeguard and protect the rights of the policyholders who lost everything in the storm. My actions were, and still are, to make sure that these big corporations do not take advantage of hardworking Mississippians – that they are held accountable.”

Sun Herald
7/31/8