State Farm wants remaining Scruggs-affiliated attorneys removed from Katrina case
By CHRIS TALBOTT
Associated Press Writer
3 January 2008
Associated Press Newswires
(c) 2008. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. is seeking to disqualify several former members of the Scruggs Katrina Group -- a legal team led by embattled attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs -- from representing a couple suing the insurer over Hurricane Katrina damage.
In court papers filed Thursday, State Farm accuses lawyers from the newly formed Katrina Litigation Group of "numerous egregious ethical violations" that warrant their removal from the case filed on behalf of policyholders Thomas and Pamela McIntosh.
State Farm is asking a federal judge to disqualify lawyers from the Barrett Law Office, Nutt & McAllister, the Lovelace Law Firm and the Mike Moore Law Firm from representing the McIntoshes.
Those attorneys formed the Katrina Litigation Group to handle cases filed by the Scruggs Katrina Group after a federal grand jury in Oxford indicted Scruggs on charges he attempted to bribe a state judge.
"The SKG's blatant misfeasance in this case was extreme," State Farm wrote in support of the motion to disqualify. "It took place over the course of several months, involved numerous third parties, and is unprecedented in scale. Indeed, additional evidence of the SKG's misfeasance is uncovered on an almost daily basis."
Don Barrett, lead attorney for the Katrina Litigation Group, did not respond to an e-mail Thursday evening.
Scruggs, his son and law partner, Zach, and three others allegedly conspired to pay $50,000 to Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey for a favorable ruling in a dispute with other lawyers over $26.5 million in attorneys' fees from mass settlement of State Farm lawsuits.
State Farm attorneys said in the filing that the legal group has participated in a pattern of "highly unethical and in many cases, blatantly illegal, tactics" while gathering evidence against the insurer.
Among other charges, they contend the group violated federal bribery laws by paying or negotiating to pay witnesses "heavy" consulting fees.
They also said the Scruggs group violated ethical rules when it used the threat of criminal prosecution by the attorney general to coerce State Farm into settling claims of "dubious merit."
And they accuse an attorney in the group of lying to a witness, saying she would be held in contempt if she did not turn over evidence the group wasn't necessarily entitled to.
State Farm argues that all the members of the former Scruggs Katrina Group should be disqualified. Even if they claim not to have been aware of Scruggs' or other attorneys' actions, the insurer believes they should be considered accessories.
"The illegally gained confidential knowledge that the SKG lawyers now possess regarding State Farm makes their continued representation of plaintiffs in this case untenable," attorneys wrote.
And while a judge may order evidence returned or witnesses barred from testimony, "the damage is already done; the SKG firms have irreparably perverted the litigation process."