A federal judge appointed two veteran Birmingham, Ala., attorneys to prosecute a prominent Mississippi attorney and his law firm for criminal contempt in a Hurricane Katrina insurance dispute.
In an order made public July 27, U.S. District Judge William Acker named Charles E. Sharp and Joel Williams to serve as special prosecutors after U.S. Attorney Alice Martin declined the judge’s request to prosecute Richard F. Scruggs and his firm.
Acker’s order appointing the two lawyers said the contempt case would be randomly assigned to another federal judge in north Alabama to handle.
Responding to the appointments, Zack Scruggs, Richard Scruggs’ son and law partner, said the U.S. attorney’s letter to Judge Acker and her decision that there is no criminal contempt is all that needs to be said about this matter.
Martin’s letter to the judge did not say why she declined to prosecute.
Sharp, 77, is a former president of the Alabama Defense Lawyers Association. His law partner, Williams, 53, is experienced in business and insurance litigation.
In a phone interview, Williams said the majority of the firm’s civil court work involves defense, but it does some plaintiff work. He said Acker approached him and Sharp about handling the case.
“We reviewed the evidence and it appeared the charge is accurate,” he said.
Richard Scruggs, a highly successful plaintiffs’ lawyer who is the brother-in-law of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., is suing State Farm on behalf of hundreds of Mississippi residents.
Acker ruled in June that Scruggs “willfully violated” a Dec. 8 preliminary injunction that required him to deliver “all documents” about State Farm Insurance Co. that two whistleblowers secretly copied after Katrina.
Instead of complying with the December injunction, Acker said in the June ruling, Scruggs promptly sent the documents to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office “for the calculated purpose of ensuring noncompliance with or avoidance” of the injunction.
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