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Trent Lott in Hot Water in State Farm Case

August 3, 2008

The leading lights of the Republican Party like to endlessly badmouth trial lawyers. Endlessly, that is, until they need one. Former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott is no exception.
Back in 2004, Lott ridiculed John Edwards, saying of John Kerry's running mate, "He's a charming guy who was a suing lawyer -- that's S-U-I-N-G lawyer." But when his own house was demolished by Hurricane Katrina three years ago, Lott was only too happy sue State Farm Insurance to pay for it. And as it turns out, Trent Lott may soon need a different kind of lawyer - a criminal defense attorney - for his own shady role in the case.
First, little history. On September 2, 2005, President Bush arrived in the Gulf Coast to belatedly assess the devastation from Katrina first-hand. If nothing else, Bush promised, Lott's beach-front home in Pascagoula would be rebuilt:

"The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

But as Lott and thousands of other Mississippi residents soon learned, State Farm Insurance had other ideas when it came to the implications of wind versus water damage in its homeowners' policies. In December 2005, Lott represented by his brother-in-law Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, filed a federal lawsuit against State Farm to force the insurance giant to pay for the flood damage.
Three years later, Trent Lott is in some hot water of his own. As ThinkProgress reported, State Farm lawyer Jim Robie alleged that Lott "urged witness to give false information" in the case. In an interview in LegalNewsLine, Robie claimed Lott "initiated contact with people surrounding this case" in a scheme with Richard and his son Zach Scruggs to defraud the insurance company:

According to court records, Robie asked [Zach] Scruggs, "Has it been your custom and habit in prosecuting litigation to have Senator Lott contact and encourage witnesses to give false information?'"
In response, Scruggs invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to comment.
"Clearly, the record couldn't be more plain that Sen. Lott and his associates were talking to people that were key advisers to Mr. Scruggs, paid consultants and those who were creating an illusion that simply doesn't have any basic fact," Robie told Legal Newsline on Thursday...
"Have you ever had a U.S. Senator call you?" he asked rhetorically.

Robie declared that he would take depositions from Dickie and Zach Scruggs, testimony "which will now have to take place in a federal penitentiary." That odd location is the result of the Scruggs' earlier conviction in a case in which they tried to bribe Judge Bobby DeLaughter. The supposed enticement to DeLaughter wasn't cash, but a spot on the federal bench which a certain Mississippi Senator could help facilitate. For his part, as The New Yorker reported in May, Lott "denies any wrong-doing" and "says that he customarily made calls regarding potential federal judgeships and never recommended DeLaughter."
State Farm's Robie promises to continue to probe the influence of Lott in the battle between the insurance company and its policyholders. As for Lott, it turns out the Senator-turned-lobbyist is quite fond of "S-U-I-N-G" lawyers like Dickie Scruggs after all. And that's a good thing; he may yet join him in prison.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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