As someone who has followed every twist and turn of the Dickie Scruggs saga, there are a few things that come screaming out of these proceedings that have not received adequate coverage. As many in the press and the legal community have noted, Friday was a sad day. Nobody in their right mind would wish that sort of pain on anyone else, and several are coming to grips with their own demons. It looks like several more will in the months to come.
However, Friday was also a good day. Just like important civil rights rulings, there is a catharsis that needs to take place in Mississippi with regards to corruption in the legal system. That means exposing and punishing this sort of behavior with the justice system and the Mississippi Bar banding together to acknowledge and deter this sort of corruption.
Judge Neal Biggers has shown himself to be a man of character throughout this whole affair. He has given no quarter to Scruggs, who had the best lawyers and advice money could buy. He was stern yet fair to Scruggs and his sentencing accurately reflected the severity of the crime and the totality of the circumstances. It is safe to say that he knew more about the evidence than the general public and he clearly implied that there is more to come. Another thing that is lost is that Oxford is a community that is completely close knit. Biggers, Tollison, Scruggs, Greenlee, Norman and all of the players on either side of this saga know each other well and see each other regularly. This was akin to sentencing your neighbor to prison, and it again takes special courage to exact that sentence under such circumstances.
Judge Henry Lackey should be lauded for his courage. Biggers certainly recognized that in the proceedings saying that Scruggs & company was messing with the wrong guy. He should forever have the esteem and gratitude of those thoughout the legal and business community. In short, he represents what’s right about the system.
US Attorney Jim Greenlee and all of his AUSAs deserve a great deal of credit. There has been no gloating. There has been no grandstanding. There has been no malice in prosecution. This has been by the book, and their conduct deserves recognition and thanks. Their work is ongoing, and I hope they continue on their current path of success and work with the same no-nonsense demeanor to get to the bottom of all of this . . . wherever it leads.
Chancellor Robert Khayat
It simply defies description at the arrogance and lack of judgement that Robert Khayat has exercised. Khayat functionally used the power of his office to endorse Dickie Scruggs’ behavior and wrote a letter to Biggers on Ole Miss letterhead. As a Scruggs was a multi-million dollar to Ole Miss, the fact that Khayat should have at the very least written the letter on personal stationary to try and provide some sense of distance between his personal feelings and his standing at the University. This whole drama at its core involves blurring ethical and legal lines and this lack of judgement reflects poorly on Khayat. His letter reads in part . . .
Throughout his adult life he has been a model citizen, family man, community supporter, and active participant in his church. He and his wife Diane are clearly among the finest people I have known.
It is my belief that any time he spends being incarcerated is an absolute waste of a great deal of talent and ability. He has much to offer society and is a public-spirited person. Furthermore, it would appear to be a waste of taxpayers’ money. Punishment is relative to the individual. A man such as Dick has been amply punished by the loss of his profession and his public statute (sic).
As a man in a position of public trust of millions in state resources, Khayat should have known better. More than one courtroom observer stated that in delivering his sentence, Biggers glared directly at Khayat, present in the courtroom, before uttering the following . . .
. . . as one person who wrote a letter said, he thought sending you to prison would be a waste of the taxpayer’ s money. To alleviate any concerns for that person, the taxpayers won’ t have to pay for your incarceration; you’ll pay for it yourself.
The Political Ramifications
In addition to whatever happens next, which Biggers implied had further legal and political ramifications, the Scruggs saga has already wiped out the shining political star of Mike Moore. I have repeatedly drawn the corollary to the Corleone family consigliere, Tom Hagen. His involvement with this mess, I believe, is responsible for Moore not pursuing what so many thought he would . . . a shot at the US Senate. He stood a very good chance of prevailing in the current political environment.
Others currently in office and those that are seeking it will continue to be tainted with the money and influence exercised by Scruggs (and to a lesser extent, Paul Minor). AG Jim Hood (D) and former Governor and current US Senate candidate Ronnie Musgrove (D) have deep and documented financial and working relationships with Scruggs and his inner circle. Where it goes . . . who knows?
The Ongoing Investigation
Remember that Dickie Scruggs did not agree to cooperate in his plea agreement. Scruggs still may be reindicted for the Hinds County mess that Joey Langston and Steve Patterson have pleaded guilty to. My sense was and continues to be that if Scruggs had cooperated with the Feds fully, he might have a global plea deal that would entail no more jailtime than he is currently facing. That may still be a legal possibility, but the Feds either (a) may not need his cooperation or (b) certainly not be in a “dealmaking” mode. If Dickie Scruggs is subsequently indicted for other offenses, he will be treated as being charged as a convicted felon, which automatically increases a possible penalty. There is, at this point, no assurance that Dickie Scruggs will get out of jail in the forseeable future given that others may implicate him further in other bribery/legal fee schemes.
Biggers clearly implied that more was to come . . .
there might be some things that you (Scruggs) can do to help yourself in the future; and you can read about it. You may not remember what I ‘ m saying, but there’ s some people who you’re involved with who I have become intrigued in this situation of what’ s going on.
When I see, from this case and others, that people who are not lawyers are getting considerable amounts of money from a legal settlement and – – you know, it intrigues me as to how – – what they’re doing to earn it, if anything. They’re not lawyers, so they’re not receiving any settlements. If you come – – you know, Balducci said that you know where a lot of bodies are buried. If you want to uncover some of those bodies, it might help you in the future in this case and this sentencing.
And more will come. Former Auditor Steve Patterson, Timothy Balducci and uberlawyer Joey Langston have all not even been scheduled to be sentenced. The extent of their cooperation is not yet fully known, but after seeing what Biggers did to Scruggs, they have ample motivation to tell the Feds everything they know. That may well be a major by-product of Biggers sentencing. Serious questions remain about the legal and ethical improprieties of P.L. Blake, former Hinds County DA Ed Peters and Judge Bobby DeLaughter. After hearing Biggers on Friday, I am more convinced than ever that we will see more indictments and that this saga will continue to unfold in slow motion like the trainwreck it is.
As tough as this is to watch, it’s time to hold our collective heads up . . . and score one for the good guys.