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FBI Searches Office Of Attorney Accused In Bribery Case

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Federal agents raided the office of an attorney hired to defend Richard ``Dickie'' Scruggs in a judicial bribery case that threatens the storied career of one the nation's most famous trial lawyers.

The FBI seized files from Joey Langston's law firm Monday that were related to its investigation of allegations that Scruggs, his son and three others conspired to pay a judge $50,000 for a favorable ruling in a case involving disputed legal fees, said Anthony Farese, an attorney for Zach Scruggs, Richard Scruggs' son and law partner.

One of Langston's former law partners, Timothy Balducci, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the bribery case and is reportedly cooperating with investigators in their case against Scruggs.

``Neither the Langston law firm nor any of its principals have been implicated in any wrongdoing,'' Farese said.

John Keker, an attorney for Scruggs, said agents should have been able to get the information they needed just by asking.

``It does seem a little heavy handed,'' he said of the search warrant.

FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden would not say what the agents took from Langston's office Monday in the northeast Mississippi town of Booneville.

Farese said the agents took records from cases that Balducci worked on before he left the firm more than a year ago.

Scruggs, a brother-in-law of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., has made millions from tobacco and asbestos litigation. He reportedly made $848 million for his part in brokering a multibillion-dollar settlement with tobacco companies in the mid-1990s. That case was portrayed in the 1999 movie ``The Insider.''

He is also a major player in state and national politics. Former President Clinton had been scheduled to be at Scruggs' home in Oxford this Saturday for a fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was canceled when the bribery indictment was announced.

The bribery charges arose from a lawsuit filed against Scruggs by another law firm that wants a bigger cut of at least $26.5 million in legal fees from a mass settlement of policyholder lawsuits over Hurricane Katrina damage.

Scruggs and a group of his legal associates known as the Scruggs Katrina Group brokered a deal with State Farm Insurance Cos. and were to split the legal fees. But the Jackson firm of Jones, Funderburg, Sessums, Peterson & Lee, which worked on the case, said it was shortchanged; the firm rejected a check for $617,924 from the Scruggs group in March and sued, according to court records.

Scruggs has been a major force in the wake of Katrina, representing hundreds of homeowners who sued over hurricane damage. He also worked closely with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in lawsuits against State Farm.
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