News of Richard “Dickie” Scruggs’ guilty plea Friday morning reverberated throughout the state’s legal community, eliciting either sympathy or satisfaction from a number of the famed attorney’s former peers.
“I think justice was greatly served, and I think it was long past due,” said Clarksdale lawyer Charlie Merkel, who had tangled with Scruggs in a number of cases during the past two decades.
“I would not say that I suspected a money bribe had been paid to a judge, but for a long time I had known that he felt justified using just about any means to an end and that he was not bothered by ethics or rules in the way he conducted his litigation.”
Merkel also said he was not surprised Scruggs entered a plea, noting that the legendary trial lawyer typically settled most cases out of court.
Scruggs and co-defendant Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a circuit court judge. Prosecutors are recommending a five-year prison sentence for the 61-year-old Scruggs and half that time for Backstrom.
“My initial reaction is one of sadness,” said Samuel Davis, dean of the University of Mississippi Law School, Scruggs’ alma mater. “I’ve known and been friends with Dick and Diane Scruggs almost 50 years now going back to our days in Pascagoula, and I feel a great sense of compassion for him and his family. And that’s just a very personal reaction. I haven’t really thought about the implications for the legal community or the legal profession.”