It’s been a long time coming but Justice finally prevailed in the case of an infamous anti-tobacco lawyer.
Dickie’s smirk unlikely to survive five years in the slammer
Richard "Dickie" Scruggs was finally removed from the scenes of his many crimes, the nation’s courtrooms, and frog-marched into the welcoming arms of a federal penitentiary . Sentenced for five years to the federal prison in Ashland Kentucky for trying to bribe a judge, Scruggs attained national notoriety for spearheading the law suits that resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement between the big cigarette manufacturers and 46 states. Four states, Mississippi, Minnesota, Texas and Florida, had previously negotiated their own settlements with the tobacco industry. Scruggs was the "outside" lawyer who partnered with Michael Moore, then attorney general of Mississippi, to shake down Big Tobacco and is rumored to be the lawyer who received the highest fees of all the sharks rewarded for exacting the colossal "penalty" that was assigned to the cigarette manufacturers for the "crime" of selling a legal product to free customers.
Dickie Scruggs got his start by successfully suing a shipyard on behalf of workers who became fatally ill as the result of exposure to asbestos fibers. He moved on to class action lawsuits against the asbestos industry itself, pioneering the method of taking down big corporations based not on proving that actual injuries resulted from corporate malfeasance but on the modern shortcut of inferring injury based on statistical legerdemain. After the asbestos industry was destroyed, Scruggs moved on to Big Tobacco.
Michael Moore, Mississippi’s attorney general, hired Scruggs in the 1990’s to pursue a "novel" legal theory of suing the tobacco industry to recover money spent by the state on treating sick smokers. With a pile of epidemiological "studies" and the political pile-on that a mob of state attorneys general can bring into play Scruggs is given credit for the eventual $260-billion payout to all 50 states by an industry that didn’t have the guts to fight a bunch of shyster ambulance chasers and the political whores who attached their ambitions for higher office to the rape of a legal industry. Although Scruggs has been understandably reticent about how much he made from his work on the tobacco suits those familiar with this sorry episode believe he collected a billion dollars.
Drunk on his own success and believing his own press releases attesting to his legal prowess and persona of public good, Scruggs next targeted the pharmaceutical industry. He started with the manufacturers of Ritalin claiming that the defendants had invented a disease and that Ritalin was grossly over-prescribed and that it was a huge risk for children. To those who are knowledgeable about the power of Big Drugs it is no surprise that every one of Scruggs’ class action suits against the pharmaceutical industry were dismissed. Big Drugs is no Big Tobacco and Scruggs was swatted away like a pestering insect.
Scruggs continued his downward path by representing his brother-in-law, who at the time was the leader of the United States Senate, in a damage lawsuit against an insurance company in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His pressure tactics were so egregious that a U.S. District Court Judge recommended that he be prosecuted for criminal content.
His current, far too brief stint in federal prison is the result of Dickie attempting to bribe a Mississippi circuit judge to fix a case brought by a gaggle of attorneys over fees to Scruggs from the Hurricane Katrina litigation fiasco. It’s appropriate that Scruggs’ downfall came from an unseemly squabble with fellow trial lawyers over money. Like Al Capone, a legendary gangster from the Prohibition Era, Scruggs’ overdue punishment is not the result of his spectacular, despicable crimes, in his case the tobacco litigation, but from an offense far down the scale of seriousness. Maybe the legal profession had finally had their fill of this slimy snake, too greedy even by the low standards of such an avaricious group.
Dickie Scruggs is the epitome of the kind of lawyer that has degraded that profession so far that it is the most despised in the United States. The national and the four states’ settlements with the tobacco industry were based on the assumption that smoking cost the states billions of dollars to treat sick smokers, an obvious fraud since not even one death, let alone illness, has ever been proven scientifically to have been caused by smoking.
Five years in a federal prison is a slap on the wrist for a gangster like Scruggs and it is morally reprehensible that his huge pile of ill-gotten gains remains intact. Still, it is highly satisfying that this highly-placed anti-tobacco lawyer is confined to a place where, at least for a while, he is prevented from damaging this country.