Scruggs relative: Ads go too far

Amy Scruggs is the first family member to speak publicly about the legal troubles of her husband and her father-in-law, Dickie Scruggs.

She disagrees with numerous Republican attack ads attempting to link disgraced trial lawyers with Democrat Ronnie Musgrove. Democratic groups attacking Republican Roger Wicker also have mentioned the family’s legal woes.

The most visible attacks, however, have come from the GOP, and Amy Scruggs said the “final straw” was receiving campaign fliers in the mail recently.

“I think it just got to the point where you couldn’t ignore it anymore. There’s no pity party going on, … but at some point, somebody’s got to say, ‘OK, if they’re going to use our name, at least get it right,’ ” she said in a telephone interview from her Oxford home last week. She described the ads as “hypocritical and hurtful.”

Musgrove accepted money from billionaire trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs in his successful bid for governor in 1999. Wicker took money from Zach Scruggs in 2004 and 2006 successful bids for Congress.

A spokesman for Wicker said he donated Zach Scruggs’ contributions to a charity after the younger Scruggs’ guilty plea earlier this year.

Zach Sruggs, a former assistant on Wicker’s congressional staff, contributed $1,000 after Wicker and his staff requested it.

Dickie and Zach Scruggs both pleaded guilty days apart in March for their roles in a battle with other lawyers over $26 million in Hurricane Katrina legal fees.

Dickie Scruggs agreed with prosecutors that he conspired to pay Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey $40,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over the fees. Zach Scruggs acknowledged knowing about the attempt to influence the judge but did not report it to authorities.

GOP television ads and campaign brochures blast Musgrove for taking money from “convicted felons” and “disgraced trial lawyers who are in prison for judicial misconduct.” At least one of them names Dickie Scruggs and shows his picture.

Spokesmen for Wicker and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group pushing most of the ads, denied responsibility for them. “Roger Wicker has not uttered the words ‘Zach Scruggs’ in this entire 10-month campaign,” Wicker campaign spokesman Ryan Annison said. “When he (pleaded guilty), we did not make political hay or fanfare out of it, and we quietly donated his contributions to charity.”

The Senate race began with a contentious tone and has included many other accusations. Republicans and Democrats covet the seat long held by the GOP, and the race appears to be close.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who defeated Musgrove in 2003, appointed Wicker to take Trent Lott’s place temporarily. The winner of the Nov. 4 special election will serve the remaining four years of the term Lott began.

Some analysts say the constant barrage of negative ads is because of the candidates’ desires to separate themselves from each other, since there are few differences between them.

Rich Forgette, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi, said the Scruggs accusations are “emblematic of this whole race. Neither candidate has taken the high ground.”

“I don’t know if that matters to any voters,” Forgette said. “I think at this point, most voters have made up their minds.”

Both Wicker and Musgrove have made references to the Scruggs family during their campaigns.

In a July speech, Wicker alluded to Dickie Scruggs when he mentioned “trial lawyers trying to buy judges and trying to buy elections.” The name “Scruggs” briefly appears in Wicker’s TV ad blasting Musgrove supporters.

In a debate earlier this month, Musgrove named Zach Scruggs as one of Wicker’s former staffers and cited the family’s contributions to Republicans.

“I don’t think it makes either one of us a bad person,” Musgrove said of the support he and Wicker have received from the family.

Clarion Ledger
10/26/8