Odd memories of a 1997 Ole Miss tobacco settlement seminar

From my notes 11 years ago, a few random observations on the night’s seminar discussion:

Neither Moore nor Scruggs was at all forthcoming at the seminar when asked the total of the legal fees Scruggs would be receiving, how Moore determined the fee structure that would govern Scruggs’ fees and expense reimbursements and how much the other 12 law firms involved in Mississippi’s tobacco suit would get.

Their response to questions about the legal fees were, in essence, that: The case initially looked unwinnable and was therefore risky; the expense of litigating such a mammoth case increased those risks; Scruggs had the resources to litigate the suit on faith without state money; Moore and Scruggs won the case, so that makes everything all right; Scruggs and Moore aren’t answering questions about fees because political foes are the ones asking.

In spite of their insistence that there were no ethical lapses in their behavior on the tobacco suit, Moore and Scruggs still owe the taxpayers of Mississippi an accounting of the lawyers’ fees and expenses that accrued from that litigation. Scruggs is Moore’s largest political contributor of record. That relationship should also be part of the accounting.

Despite the fact that they are on different sides of the philosophical fence, Scruggs, Moore and Barbour – Scruggs is a mutual friend of the both of them – shared a plane ride to Oxford in Scruggs’ Lear Jet, which legitimizes my theory that in Mississippi politics, all lions will at some point lie down with all lambs.

To that end, exchanges between Barbour and Moore were gentlemanly, even when the topics were slightly heated. On the topic of Gov. Kirk Fordice’s steadfast verbal assaults on Moore for his involvement in the case, Barbour defended Fordice by saying that Moore refused to let the client, i.e., Fordice, control the litigation.

Moore said he was the lawyer for “the people, not the governor.”

Barbour remains the best politician/lobbyist/spin doctor I’ve ever seen and whatever the tobacco barons are paying him, they’re getting their money’s worth. Moore defends his role in the tobacco wars with evangelical fervor and sloughs off questions about legal fees and a cozy political relationship with Scruggs.

Now, flash forward 11 years.

Fordice died. Barbour’s now governor. Moore’s defending Scruggs’ son, Zach, on the same charges to which his father pleaded guilty – and the same questions linger today that lingered in 1997 at the Ole Miss Law School about Mississippi’s tobacco litigation, the legal fees and the political relationships and entanglements that perhaps forever changed Mississippi’s legal landscape.

Sid Salter
Clarion Ledger