Mississippi Tort Inc.

The bribery case against tort baron Dickie Scruggs promises to be the trial of 2008 in legal and business circles. But whatever the verdict, the prosecution is already doing a public service by exposing the incestuous relationship among prosecutors and trial lawyers in Mississippi. It’s a pattern that deserves similar scrutiny across the country.

Mr. Scruggs, his son, and three other attorneys were indicted last month for conspiring to bribe a state judge in a dispute with another law firm over Katrina legal fees. One of the men, Timothy Balducci, has since pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the feds. One intriguing revelation is that, as recently as 2006, Mr. Balducci was on the payroll of state Attorney General Jim Hood. The AG had outsourced one of his famous corporate takedowns — of Eli Lilly — to a law firm at which Mr. Balducci was a partner. Mr. Balducci, now an admitted felon, led that litigation. This comes on the back of a State Farm lawsuit alleging in detail how Mr. Hood colluded with Mr. Scruggs to pressure that insurer into a settlement.

Mr. Hood is now backpedaling from the tainted attorneys, but the Magnolia State is a case study in the collusion between the tort bar and state law enforcement officials to shake down corporate targets. The tort barons rake in millions of dollars in fees as agents of the state, while the AG gets headlines and campaign cash.