n The FBI documents say the accused lawyer didn't think State Farm would settle if the attorney general got involved.
BY HOLBROOK MOHR
The Associated Press
JACKSON - A lawyer accused of trying to bribe a judge also paid two associates $500,000 to convince Attorney General Jim Hood not to file criminal charges against an insurance company over its handling of Hurricane Katrina claims, according to an FBI report in court records.
Plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who sued State Farm Fire and Casualty Cos. soon after the 2005 storm, was afraid the company "was not going to settle the civil cases" if the attorney general's office filed criminal charges, according to an FBI report filed Monday in the bribery case.
At the time, Attorney General Jim Hood was pursuing a criminal investigation against State Farm over what he claimed was the company's fraudulent practices in denying homeowners' insurance claims.
Scruggs agreed to pay New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci and former State Auditor Steve Patterson "if they could get Hood to relent on indicting" State Farm, according to a report written by FBI Agent William Delaney on Nov. 2, 2007.
Hood would not answer questions Tuesday about the alleged meeting. However, he issued a statement through a spokeswoman saying he made the decision not to file criminal charges after three days of grand jury hearings.
"I made my decision that there was insufficient evidence to uphold a conviction of State Farm on evidence we had at the time, based upon the advice of a career prosecutor who started in this office in the early 1970s," Hood said. "I am too hardheaded to be influenced by outside forces - I do what I think is right for the working people of Mississippi."
The FBI report, entered into federal court records in the bribery case against Scruggs and two associates, is based on an interview with a confidential source, apparently Balducci. Balducci has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a circuit court judge in a dispute over the $26.5 million in attorney fees that Scruggs and his associates eventually won in the lawsuit against State Farm.
Patterson has also pleaded guilty. He and Balducci are cooperating with the federal investigation.
The FBI document was filed as part of a defense motion introducing a potential witness. It says Balducci accompanied Patterson, who had a long-standing relationship with Hood, to a meeting in which they asked Hood not to charge State Farm.
"Hood later agreed not to indict," the report said.
Patterson and Balducci were "paid a fee totaling $500,000 over a period of time to assist with the State Farm settlement," said Patterson's attorney, Hiram Eastland Jr..
However, Eastland could not confirm that Balducci and Patterson tried to persuade Hood to withhold criminal charges against State Farm.