Tobacco Settlement Lawyer Indicted in Bribery Scheme

An attorney who helped negotiate a multibillion-dollar settlement against tobacco companies in the 1990s and has sued insurers over unpaid Hurricane Katrina claims was indicted Wednesday in a suspected scheme to bribe a Mississippi judge.

The indictment accuses Dickie Scruggs of conspiring to pay the judge $40,000 to rule in his favor in a lawsuit brought by other attorneys who sought fees for work on Katrina insurance litigation.

Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey reported the "bribery overture" to federal authorities and agreed to assist investigators, according to the indictment.

Scruggs was indicted along with three other attorneys, including his son, who is his law partner, and a former Mississippi auditor. They face charges including one count of defrauding the federal government and two counts of wire fraud.

"I'm convinced that these guys did not do what they're accused of doing," said Joey Langston, a lawyer for Scruggs' firm.

Also named as defendants in the indictment are Zach Scruggs; Sidney Backstrom, a lawyer in Scruggs' firm; Timothy Balducci, a New Albany, Miss.-based lawyer; and former state auditor Steven Patterson, who works with Balducci.

After their arraignment, Dickie Scruggs was released on $100,000 bail, while Zach Scruggs and Patterson each were freed on $50,000 bail. Langston said Backstrom is expected to be arraigned today, but he couldn't say when Balducci is expected to appear in court.

Langston said it was too early for him to comment on the details of the allegations.