The monthly luncheon of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps is usually a calm affair. A speaker gives a presentation, takes a few benign questions from the audience and everybody heads back to the office. Controversy and consternation are rarely on the menu.
That was not the case today.
Alan Lange and Tom Dawson were today’s keynotes. The two have written a book — “Kings of Tort” — that chronicle the judicial bribery cases that have landed Dickie Scruggs, Paul Minor and a handful of former plaintiffs’ attorneys in prison. Lange, publisher of yallpolitics.com, and Dawson, who was lead prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford in the Scruggs cases, listed as their primary reason for writing the book the need for a data-driven, fact-based narrative about the corruption cases that have brought down some pretty powerful people. MBJ Staff Writer/Researcher Stephen McDill takes a look at the book here.
When Lange and Dawson opened the floor for questions, the first hand that went up belonged to Steve Seale, an attorney with Wise Carter Child and Caraway in Jackson. He shook his head in the universally recognized symbol for “no” a lot during the time Lange and Dawson were at the podium.
Seale took issue with Lange and Dawson’s assertion that they wrote the book purely to provide a blow-by-blow account of the Scruggs and Minor proceedings, and suggested that their motives had more to do with money than posterity.
“You would never had been heard of (without the notoriety of the Scruggs case),” Seale told Dawson. “You wrote it because it was Dickie Scruggs, you wrote it because it’s Mississippi, you wrote it because it’s corruption and that kind of corruption is something the public is always going to pay attention to.”
Seale then challenged the notion Dawson had that Judge Henry Lackey, who blew the whistle in the Scruggs deal, the FBI agents who investigated the case and the judges who presided over it were heroes.
“These are people who should do what they did because it’s their job.”
Seale also seemed offended at Dawson’s opinion that the legal profession had been damaged by the case.
“It’s been damaged only by people who didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”
Seale is a former chief counsel to former Sen. Trent Lott, who is Scruggs’ brother-in-law. It’s not a stretch to say that his opinion of the subject matter of “Kings of Tort” is influenced heavily by that fact.
For his part, Dawson said personal profit “was not the moving force behind the decision to write this book. I want a historical record out there of what happened. This was not a routine bank robbery. This was not some dope gang doing drive-bys. These were some of the most powerful people in this state, maybe beyond. They had the ability to destroy lives and attempted to do so. I don’t think you can discount the fact that so many people stood up and did the right thing. A lot of people would have backed away from this.”
Dawson did say that he “certainly hoped” that the book would sell well.
After Seale and Dawson went back and forth, Dawson talked a lot about the beginning of the undercover investigation kicked off after attorney Timothy Balducci attempted to bribe Lackey, who then reported the attempt to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“The most amazing thing is we kept this thing secret for eight months in a town like Oxford,” said Dawson, who has since retired from the Justice Department.
When it was over several members of the audience paid $27.95 for a copy of the book. In one of the most ironic things Magnolia Marketplace has ever seen, Seale was among them.