OXFORD, MISS. (CN) – Attorney Dickie Scruggs, who led the $250 billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco in the 1990s and won millions more in asbestos litigation, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to bribe a judge. Scruggs, 61, is expected to be sentenced to 5 years in prison for offering to a judge hearing Hurricane Katrina insurance claims $50,000 as he decided how to split $26.5 million in attorney’s fees.
A partner in Scruggs’ law firm, Sidney Backstrom, pleaded guilty to a similar charge. Prosecutors are expected to seek a 2½-year sentence for Backstrom. Without the plea bargain, Scruggs could have faced up to 75 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
The Mississippi Bar Association said it would seek to suspend and disbar them.
Scruggs’ son, David Z. Scruggs, indicted in the same case, is scheduled to go to trial on March 31.
Scruggs formed the Scruggs Katrina Group from victims of Hurricane Katrina – including himself – who felt State Farm had cheated them on claims. The group reached an $80 million settlement, but returned to court in a squabble over fees.
In November 2007, federal prosecutors accused the Scruggses, Backstrom and two others of conspiring to bribe Circuit Judge Henry Lackey in the fee dispute. Lackey reported the offer to federal officials.
Two men pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors, including attorney Timothy Balducci, who told the FBI he bribed Judge Lackey on orders from Scruggs and Backstrom.
The case left legal observers scratching their heads, as Scruggs, whose law office is on the same square here as the Federal Courthouse, did not need the money. Attorneys’ fees from the 1990s tobacco litigation came to $13 billion, of which Scruggs received more than $100 million.