Friday, November 30, 2007
Top plaintiffs' lawyer Dickie Scruggs, of tobacco and asbestos fame, has been indicted for alleged attempted bribing of a Mississippi state judge in connection with the distribution of fees from the Katrina insurance litigation. As with the separate Milberg Weiss allegations about paying class representatives, the government appears to have much stronger evidence against a less-well known lawyer intermediary, who was allegedly working on behalf of the well-known plaintiffs' lawyer. In the Katrina litigation, that intermediary is alleged to be Timothy Balducci, who was audiotaped offering the bribe and delivering the money, according to the government. Scruggs denies the allegations.
The Wall Street Journal has details on the build up of the case in the article, How the Scruggs Case Came Together, by Ashby Jones and Peter Lattman. In addition, an editorial in the Journal -- The Trial Bar on Trial -- celebrates the possible downfall of prominent tort lawyers who were indicted this year, including Bill Lerach, Dickie Scruggs, and others at Milberg Weiss including Melvyn Weiss.
If true, all of these allegations suggest remarkable hubris in at least some of the top plaintiffs' lawyers. One wonders about the effect of a lifestyle of private jets and multiple wins of multiple millions (or tens of millions) in fees. One also wonders about the effect of high-risk, winner-take-all, contingency fee litigation. Brash and aggressive personalities seem to thrive in such an environment -- but they too must keep in mind that lawyers ultimately serve the client (not the other way around) and that no one (especially not the lawyer) is above the law.