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Bribing judge leads high-profile attorney to federal prison

Richard “Dickie” Scruggs was once one of the most powerful – and certainly the most wealthy – plaintiffs’ attorneys in the history of the United States.

Now he’s inmate No. 12734-042 at a federal prison in Ashland, Ky.

Scruggs, his lawyer son Zach Scruggs and law partner Sidney Backstrom are serving prison terms after they each pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the attempted bribery of Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey.

Scruggs earned hundreds of millions of dollars from his work on the state of Mississippi’s lawsuit against tobacco companies. Hollywood even made a movie about him that starred Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin. He was a celebrity.

That collapsed when he was indicted and federal authorities released transcripts of wiretapped conversations between Scruggs and others that would have made compelling material for a fiction novel.

Faced with a mountain of evidence against him, Scruggs pleaded guilty in federal court in Oxford last summer and began serving his five-year prison sentence in August. According to the Bureau of Prisons website, he is scheduled for release in December 2012.

Attorney Timothy Balducci and former state auditor Steve Patterson, who also pleaded guilty to similar charges, have yet to be sentenced. Booneville lawyer Joey Langston, who pleaded guilty to a separate scheme to bribe Hinds County judge Bobby DeLaughter, was sentenced to three years in prison last week. Langston inititally represented Scruggs after the Lackey indictments. The federal investigation into the DeLaughter case continues. DeLaughter has denied any wrongdoing. Scruggs’ attorney has repeatedly insisted that Scruggs did not attempt to bribe DeLaughter.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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