Dickie Scruggs ‘drama’ would be great fiction, but it’s real

At the center of events is Scruggs, who, when others laughed at the notion, said Big Tobacco could be made to pay state and federal governments for the harm tobacco caused to people’s health. He won and people stopped laughing. Billions have been poured into public treasuries over the past decade with billions more to come. Indeed, the tobacco settlement has rivaled the casino industry in providing windfall cash for state lawmakers to spend.

After victories in asbestos litigation earned him substantial fees, Scruggs became known for leading with his checkbook. It was after being the No. 1 donor to former Attorney General Mike Moore that Scruggs was hired for the tobacco case. He has been “the man.” His name is spoken with whispered reverence in the Capitol, where he reportedly spent $100,000 this year to boost election of selected lawmakers.

He doesn’t always carry the day. Mississippi is getting more business friendly and less lawyer friendly. But Scruggs has not been shy about using cash to back his beliefs.

Scruggs doesn’t just expend money on politicians. He’s done it with the press. A few years ago when The Clarion-Ledger, in his view, misreported a story in which he was involved, Scruggs purchased full-page advertisements to have his say. His philanthropy is real, too, including a $25 million gift to the University of Mississippi, merely the largest on a list of dozens of donations he has made.

Now federal prosecutors have indicted Scruggs, two other attorneys in his firm, his son, Zach, and Sidney Backstrom and accused him of spending money where it is absolutely not supposed to be spent – to buy a ruling from a state Circuit Court judge.

Judge Henry Lackey was to decide how to allocate a $26.5 million chunk of legal fees State Farm had paid as part of its settlement of cases Scruggs filed for policyholders who alleged the company had denied post-Katrina payments they were due.

Charlie Mitchell
Clarion Ledger