Monday, January 14, 2008
I discussed in an earlier post (here) that you "Can't Tell the Attorneys in the Scruggs Case Without a Scorecard" because of all the shuffling of counsel in the case. The latest round of plea agreements down in Mississippi sheds a little light on why there was such a flurry of activity on January 9, when lawyers from The Langston Firm who represented Dickie Scruggs dropped out of the case and he tried to add new counsel, Kenneth Coghlan, who had earlier represented a co-defendant, Steven Patterson. Meanwhile, Dickie's son Zach, a co-defendant, terminated his attorney, Anthony Farese, who attempted to withdraw. The smoke has now cleared a bit on the counsel issue as Dickie's former lawyer, Joseph Langston, entered into a plea agreement for conspiracy to pay a bribe to a Mississippi state court judge in a case involving a fee dispute between Dickie and two former partners -- what a shock, because this is the same basic transaction alleged in Dickie's current indictment in Mississippi. The plea agreement (available below) is dated January 7, 2008, and was sealed, but obviously it required Langston to withdraw from representing Dickie because he is named in the criminal information as a coconpirator despite not being charged . . . yet.
Just to make things even more complicated, Langston's attorney is Farese, who was also representing Zach. Both Langston and Zach filed conflict waivers (available below), but it would be a bit difficult to represent a defendant's son in one case and a lawyer who states that the father paid a bribe in a similar case. Even if there's no risk of disclosure of confidential information, it just doesn't engender the kind of trust necessary between a lawyer and client, so Farese's motion to withdraw as Zach's attorney was essentially a foregone conclusion. According to filings in the case, Zach is now being represented by Todd Graves from Missouri. In case that name sounds familiar, Graves was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri who became the "eighth" fired U.S. Attorney in 2006 when it came out ther he too had been removed for political reasons by Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department. Odd how the streams have crossed in this case (for the Ghostbusters fans out there).
Dickie's attempt to hire Coghlan could be problematic because of the second plea agreement (available below) in the case, this time by co-defendant Patterson to the conspiracy charge. Given the prior representation of a co-defendant, it will be hard for the judge to allow Coghlan to appear on Dickie's behalf in the case because of the potential (or actual) conflict of interest. Courts are generally loath to allow one lawyer to represent a current defendant after previously representing another one now cooperating in the case and likely to testify against the current client -- that's just playing with fire. Patterson had been a partner of Tim Balducci, who dealt with the judge who was to receive the bribe, and filings in the case indicate that the government has a number of taped conversations between Balducci and Patterson. Patterson will likely be the next person vilified by the defense, but his plea could give the prosecutors a big boost because he can support Balducci's testimony. Like Balducci, Patterson can receive a 5K1.1 motion for a lower sentence based on his cooperation, so the first line of attack is clear -- the "deal with the devil" argument. The remaining defendants in this case are all from the Scruggs law firm, so to this point the government's witnesses remain on the outside.
Things seem to come in bunches in Mississippi, and the trial is currently set to start on February 25. With the Patterson guilty plea and the arrival of Graves to represent Zach, don't be surprised to see the defense move to push the trial back. (ph)