As I asked hypothetically in a blog post several months ago, " Can Dickie Scrugg's have really been that dumb?" apparently yesterday we got our answer as the often described " King of Torts" pled guilty to
in fact attempting to bribe a judge in a case related to a fee dispute
tied to a Katrina settlement of which $26.5 million was at stake.
To call this a bad week for avenging lawyers would be an understatement, given the trifecta of collapses featuring Eliot Spitzer, William Lerach and now Dickie Scruggs with in days of each other. The question I get from virtually every lawyer I speak to on each situations is what in the world was the fabulously wealthy and successful Mr. Scrugg's possibly thinking? His net worth is estimated to be somewhere north of $1 billion thanks to his historic involvement in the tobacco litigation, he was politically connected at a level few can aspire to, he was quite accurately known as one of the most powerful attorney's in the United States, and yet he is now facing 5 years of prison time and the end of his legal career.
If you are to look at one common thread in all of the scandals and criminal frauds created by trial lawyers over the last 5 years you immediately see that the lack of transparency in the negotiation, prosecution and settlement of major cases such as asbestos, silicosis, phen fen, breast implants, Katrina property claims and securities fraud created an ethos among trial lawyers that because no one was watching they could get away with unethical and criminal activity. Fraudulent asbestos claims, bogus medical data on silicosis, cheating clients to buy race horses in Phen Fen, misallocated expenses in breast implant cases, kick backs to criminal lead plaintiffs in class actions and now bribing judges to screw over your co-counsel in mass torts, I mean really where does this all end?
When trial lawyers next complain about how their image is distorted and twisted by the media and tort reform allies, they need to take a serious look in the mirror at the corrupt, careless, greedy and criminal behavior they have allowed with in their own ranks. That the very leaders in key areas of the law were the one's who are now creating the most damage is something I would hope AAJ might address at their national convention, but I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Isn't it about time that the next generation of trial lawyers and advocates of justice spoke up about the moral rot that is threatening to tarnish all trial lawyers?
LBN and The Settlement Channel will be doing a month long series on legal ethics, mass torts and how to make the process more transparent so that these abuses that occurred in secret can be avoided through structural disclosure of the entire process. As my frequent readers know, I'm a huge advocate of 468b settlement trusts, particularly when they are used on the front end of a case to outline litigation, provide transparency and to create judicial oversite of the process by which expenses are paid, damages are allocated, fee's are disbursed and clients needs are planned. Obviously, there is no way to prevent a criminally minded lawyer from ultimately acting in an unethical and self destructive fashion, but much as with my post on Eliot Spitzer my call again is for TRANSPARENCY of process so that the temptation to be unethical, sloppy or criminal is eliminated to a large degree by knowledge that the entire process is public record and visible.
If you have a
guest or speaker you'd like us to interview during the next month on this topic, contact our studio and let