Prominent Mississippi trial lawyer-make that former lawyer-Dickie Scruggs had to face the music last Friday. You may recall that Scruggs, along with his son and a law partner pleaded guilty to attempted bribery of a state court judge who was presiding over a fee dispute between Scruggs and another law firm. The fact that Scruggs, who made a zillion dollars from litigation with the tobacco industry, would be so stupid to risk it all for the sake of a fee that he didn't exactly need is beyond the comprehension of most mere mortals that toil as well in this particular vineyard. But the Bible is full of stories like this. And Dickie will have plenty of time to get reacquainted with the Good Book because United States District Judge Neal Biggers gave him 5 years. Which was the maximum he could throw at him under the sentencing guidelines.
Woody Allen once said, " The heart wants what it wants." Scruggs wanted money. And it would appear that he would do anything to get it.
The account of the sentencing hearings for him and his partner Sid Backstrom in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger were fairly dramatic as these things typically go and you can read about it here: http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080628/NEWS/806280351/1001/news
I got a call from a friend who happened to be in town and attended the hearing. Her late father was a lawyer. He crossed swords with Scruggs on numerous occasions.
" I guess I just wanted to be there in his stead to watch Dickie have to take his medicine. First off, when they called the case I noticed that his wife was dressed rather oddly for such an occasion."
" How so?"
" I don't know. It was a gay, festive dress which I wouldn't think you would wear for such a somber occasion."
" Maybe Dickie liked that dress on her. Maybe she thought it might cheer him up some."
" Maybe. But if my husband were about to go away for something like this I would dress like a widow. It would be like a death to me. I just found it strange."
Her reaction to Scruggs getting the book thrown at him surprised her as well.
" I went in the courtroom expecting to feel a certain satisfaction in someone as high and mighty as him getting his just desserts. What I saw instead was a frail man who had been brought as low as a person can be brought. When Dickie's lawyer started talking about the toll all of this has taken on Dickie's family I thought he was going to collapse. A man from the other table (that would be the prosecutor) had to help Dickie's lawyer hold him up until they brought him a chair to sit in. It was clear to me that he was sobbing uncontrollably while the Judge was giving him a severe tongue lashing."
"Well, Dickie had it coming," I said. "What did he expect? Everyday the Lord sends Biggers has to send some dumbass kid off for some nickleshit drug violation. Most guys that wind up in front of him certainly never had the advantages in life nor the assets of a Dickie Scruggs. Clearly, he was going to get the book thrown at him. He had to know that."
" I agree. But it doesn't negate the abject sadness of this whole miserable affair."
Maybe my friend is right. There is a lot of inappropriate schadenfreude going on down there over Scruggs's comeuppance. Sure he was a hardassed litigator whose apparent need to drive the other side into the dirt on every issue compelled him to cross the line that cannot be crossed.
What he did was as serious as it gets for my profession. But it's not like Scruggs killed anybody. And while it's hard to feel too awfully sorry for a man who won't exactly have to take up a trade when he gets out of the joint, "it doesn't negate the abject sadness of this whole miserable affair" as my friend put it.
The courts see one miserable affair after another. The difference this time is that this particular affair was concocted by a man who looked like "respectable folks." And his wife wore a pretty dress to his sentencing hearing.