How a $50,000 Bribe Led to Scruggs' Downfall A $50,000 bribe has landed one of America's top tort lawyers in prison. Mississippi-native Dickie Scruggs was sentenced Friday to five years behind bars. Journalist Peter J. Boyer, who profiled Scruggs in the May 19th issue of The New Yorker magazine, discusses the case.
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How a $50,000 Bribe Led to Scruggs' Downfall

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How a $50,000 Bribe Led to Scruggs' Downfall

How a $50,000 Bribe Led to Scruggs' Downfall

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ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

Peter J. Boyer has profiled Dickie Scruggs and his tort tactics for the New Yorker magazine. He joins me now from his home. Welcome.

M: Hey, Andrea.

SEABROOK: So, Mr. Boyer, we'll get to the bribery in just a second. But first introduce us to this guy. He is just a larger-than-life character.

M: The other two pieces were the political piece and the public relations piece, and he completely understood those things. He was a very strong Democrat, but his brother-in-law was Trent Lott, the...

SEABROOK: Right.

M: ...you know, who was the Senate majority leader. He knew how to use political force from all sides and did so from the very beginning.

SEABROOK: And, you know, lest we make him sound like he was just an evil political operative. He donated lots of money to his alma mater. I mean, he was the guy that you walked into his office and asked for help, he'd give it.

M: There were two Dickies - that was one. Of the other Dickie Scruggs was in fact the rapacious tort pirate that you hear about.

SEABROOK: A pirate in seersucker.

M: That's actually a pretty good way to putting it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SEABROOK: Let's get to the case that eventually landed Scruggs in prison. He was basically sued by another lawyer, a guy named Johnny Jones. Jones felt that Scruggs didn't pay him enough for some work he did, Jones did, on the Hurricane Katrina insurance cases.

M: That's right.

SEABROOK: So then Jones files his complaint and the case is scheduled to go before a judge named Henry Lackey. Then tell us what happened.

M: He was hoping that Dickie would act to settle. As it turned out, Dickie ultimately acted to thwart the system and to tilt it his way.

SEABROOK: The thing that makes it so amazing is that it wasn't even that much money.

M: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Here's a guy who has hundreds of millions of dollars, planes, boats...

M: Yeah.

SEABROOK: ...and he bribes a judge over a settlement of a couple million bucks.

M: And what began as a little bit of what they call down there ear-wigging, you know, getting to know the judge and trying to influence him, became an overt bribe. Dickie didn't know about it at first but at the end of the day he not only knew about it, approved it and agreed to participate in it.

SEABROOK: And up the ante from $40,000 to 50,000. That was...

M: That's exactly right. And as it happened they picked the exact wrong guy, literally a central casting good judge - this white-haired deacon of the Baptist church who grows his own vegetables and delivers them on dewy mornings to the widow ladies in his hometown.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: And he almost immediately sensed that something was wrong and went to the Feds and the Feds were quite eager and willing to bring down Scruggs.

SEABROOK: Peter Boyer's article on Dickie Scruggs appeared in the May 19 issue of the New Yorker. Thanks very much for speaking with us, Peter Boyer.

M: It was good to be with you.

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