It's been an eventful week for the Lott clan. On Monday, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) announced that he'd be retiring late this year. The next day, FBI agents raided the law office of his brother-in-law, Richard "Dickie" Scruggs. Yesterday, Scruggs, his son, and three associates were indicted for bribery.
Scruggs is a hotshot plaintiff's lawyer who famously cleaned up from lawsuits against big tobacco. His recent business has focused on Katrina-related litigation, especially against State Farm Insurance.
He'd better have a great criminal defense lawyer, because the indictment from the U.S. attorney for Mississippi's Northern District is devastating (you can read it here).
Here's the basic scheme: after Scruggs led a $80 million settlement between State Farm and hundreds of clients, an attorney who had formerly worked with Scruggs disputed the $26.5 million chunk of that settlement to Scruggs' law group. Scruggs wanted his money, and he and his associates decided that the best way to get it was to bribe the county judge presiding over the case, Henry Lackey. But Lackey went to the feds as soon as Scruggs' associates made the overture. He wore a wire. And things went downhill from there. For instance, here's what a lawyer working for Scruggs said to the judge, according to the indictment:
"...[M]my relationship with Dick [Scruggs] is such that he and I can talk very private [sic] about these kinds of matters and I have the fullest confidence that if the court, you know, is inclined to rule... in favor... everything will be good.... The only person in the world outside of me and you that has discussed this is me and Dick [Scruggs].... We, uh, like I say, it ain't but three people in the world that know anything about this...and two of them are sitting here and the other one...the other one, uh, being Scruggs...he and I, um, how shall I say, for over the last five or six years there, there are bodies buried that, that you know, that he and I know where...where are, and, and, my, my trust in his, mine in him and his in mine, in me, I am sure are the same."
The indictment is replete with similarly, um, problematic quotations. There are plenty of mentions of the "package" and the "order" among Scruggs' associates (apparently conversations on tapped phones). In October and November of this year, Scruggs, through his associates, paid the judge $40,000 (and intended to pay $10,000 more). And when it came time for the order to be prepared, the indictment quotes one of Scruggs' associates as saying to two others (one of them Scruggs' son), "we paid for this ruling; let's be sure it says what we want it to say."
It's like I said: it doesn't look good for Scruggs. As for Lott, there's no indication that he had anything to do with the scheme. Whether the impending indictment, which seems to have caught Scruggs very much by surprise, had anything to do with his sudden retirement, remains (like the many other competing theories) unclear.