When Dickie Scruggs was indicted recently, it made many people happy. Of course, bloggers and traditional journalists are thrilled to have something so dramatic to write about. Democrats and left wing blogs are excited because Scruggs gave a quarter of a million dollars to the Bush campaign - plus he was Republican Senator Trent Lott's brother in law. Republicans and right wing blogs thought the indictment was great because Scruggs was a trial attorney (ie, devil incarnate), he gave quite a bit of money to Democrats, and he was about to have a fundraiser for Hillary at his house.
All in all, this guy looks guilty as hell and seems not to have any friends at all.
NOT SO FAST.
No friends? According to the Wall Street Journal, Scruggs and his wife just had a party at his house in Oxford, MS with over 200 friends. One of those friends, Robert Khayat, the chancellor of Ole Miss, said, "The town really did turn out for them." Another friend was the most famous lawyer from Mississippi, John Grisham. Oxford's Mayor was there and said, "People appreciate him for his support of the community, and we're all willing to stand by and support him." Another friend was Richard Howorth, the owner of Square Books, the famous bookstore and literary center of Oxford and maybe Mississippi.
So why are all these people so supportive of someone who looks so guilty? First, we should heed the words of John Grisham. "In a situation like this I’m always reminded how quickly we abandon the presumption of innocence. There’s always such a rush to judgment. " Grisham read the indictment against Scruggs and said, "As a former criminal defense lawyer, I started thinking about how I would defend it and started looking for gaps and holes."
After all the initial buzz of the indictment, those gaps and holes are becoming more prevalent. As Grisham said, "It’s only one side of what happened. There’s a whole lot more to the story. One thing is that there are a lot of recorded statements in the indictment but none from Dickie. There are no allegations that he delivered cash or was part of it."
The biggest argument against Scruggs' guilt is something along the lines that he was too smart to do something so stupid. Or why would a big time trial attorney bribe a judge over a small potatoes fee dispute. Since there doesn't appear to be any concrete evidence against Scruggs, the prosecution will have to answer that to the satisfaction of a jury. And there are no obvious answers.
The lawyer who sued Scruggs, John Jones, has one theory, which is outlined in an article in Fortune Magazine. Jones said he filed the suit in Oxford hoping to shame Scruggs. “I wanted a jury to hear it in Dickie’s backyard," he said. He thinks Scruggs wanted the judge to send the case to arbitration, which is a closed proceeding. But that theory doesn't seem to hold up, because most lawyers think the case would have gone to arbitration anyway. And even Jones admits to being shocked when he learned about the indictment.
The person caught on tape is Timothy Balducci. Those in attendance at the party in Oxford were contemptuous of him. Remember that Oxford is a small town, and everyone knows everyone - like Natchez. One comment kind of sums up their attitude: "This is a clear case of a young man wanting to endear himself to Dickie Scruggs in hopes that he might one day have a chair at his table."
I do feel fairly certain that this is not a political prosecution like the one of Paul Minor, Oliver Diaz, and the two judges. The prosecuting US Attorney in the latter case (in the Southern District of Mississippi) was Dunn Lampton, a political appointee with a serious lack of ethical standards. In the Scruggs case (in the Northern District of Mississippi), the US Attorney is Jim Greenlee, who by all appearances is an ethical and professional attorney.
Crossposted on Cottonmouth Blog.