OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - A Jackson law firm is entitled to fees and perhaps punitive damages because opposing attorneys in a lawsuit conspired to bribe the judge in the case, a judge ruled Wednesday.
How much the Scruggs Katrina Group will have to pay the Jackson law firm of Jones, Funderburg, Sessums, Peterson and Lee has not been determined. Attorneys will return to court Nov. 12 in Oxford to begin process.
The judge, Henry Lackey, cooperated with federal authorities and received $40,000 to rule favorably for Richard "Dickie" Scruggs and his law firm in a lawsuit about the division of $26.5 million in legal fees from Hurricane Katrina insurance case settlements.
The Jones firm claimed it was owed a larger share of the fees.
This also was the lawsuit on which Lackey was presiding in Lafayette County when he was approached by then-New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci for the favor.
On Wednesday, Special Circuit Judge William Coleman, who took over in the case after Lackey stepped aside, agreed the Jones firm had been harmed by the bribery scandal and were owed reasonable attorneys fees and expenses they incurred in the lawsuit.
"This is exactly what we wanted," said Jones attorney Roy Percy after the hearing.
The conspirators' action "strikes at the heart of the judicial system," Coleman said.
Scruggs attorney Cal Mayo of Oxford, who said he had not yet talked with his client about Coleman's order, said an appeal is possible.
"Any attorney for any client should be concerned about punitive damages," Mayo said.
Richard Scruggs, his lawyer son Zach, their legal associate Sidney Backstrom, Balducci and his associate, former state Auditor Steven Patterson has each has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to bribe Lackey. They await sentencing.
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal,