Richard “Dickie” Scruggs has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming a lower court’s dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief filed after the Court decided in Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010), that certain “creative uses” of the “honest services fraud” statute violate due process. Scruggs v. United States, No. 13-206 (U.S., cert. petition filed August 12, 2013).
Scruggs made a name for himself as a trial lawyer representing asbestos and tobacco litigants and was convicted of wire fraud after successfully representing plaintiffs suing to recover damages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
According to his petition for a writ of certiorari, Scruggs pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he had used a personal friend of a state court judge to have ex parte conversations with the judge concerning a pending case in which Scruggs was a party and over which the judge presided. “Petitioner also endorsed the judge for a federal judgeship to a United States Senator.” The government charged Scruggs with depriving the citizens of Mississippi of their “intangible right of honest services” from the state court judge. Scruggs was fined and sentenced to a seven-year term of imprisonment. He argues that the endorsement involved no bribery or kickbacks and constituted core political speech protected under the First Amendment. He suggests that the First Amendment issue arose after Skilling and that the case should be heard to resolve a circuit split “on whether district courts have jurisdiction to punish when the charging documents aver no facts that constitute a federal crime.”