Hilburn Needs to Disclose Conflicts

Our teaser post included this quote:

“When you have a conspiracy, everyone is tied to the conspiracy. Those who come early. Those who come late.”

-Richard Scruggs to U.S. District Judge Kathleen O’Malley in Ruth v. A.O. Smith Corp.


The quote is a propos to the pension litigation, however the dog whistle is the case citation.

Ruth v. A.O. Smith was a suit Dickie Scruggs filed alleging that fumes from welding rods caused Parkinsonian disorders in welders. Typical toxic tort for pedestrian P’goula plaintiffs’ bar – what’s the connection to Singing River?

The Supreme Court ordered Chancellor Harris’ recusal based on the the Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3(E) (1) states in part:

Judges should disqualify themselves in proceedings in which their impartiality might be questioned by a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances […]

The commentary thereto states:
A judge should disclose on the record information that the judge believes the parties or their lawyers might consider relevant to the question of disqualification, even if the judge believes there is no real basis for disqualification.


Now, back to Ruth.

Before Ruth v. A.O. Smith in the federal courts, there was Ruth v. Lincoln Electric in the Hinds County Circuit Court. Two cases that split from Ruth v. Lincoln Electric were the cases of White v. Lincoln Electric and Thompson v. Lincoln Electric.  Scruggs’ cases  were heard before Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who would eventually go to jail for his role in the Scruggs judicial bribery scandal . The defendants appealed a decisions by DeLaughter, citing “a series of unprecented” rulings.  The legal wrangling over precedents isn’t important here, the appeals process is.

When appealing a case, a “Certificate of Interested Persons” is filed with the court so that justices may determine any potential conflicts of interest. Examining the listing of plaintiffs’ attorneys in the White and Thompson cases, respectively, we find:



Reeves and Hilburn shared an economic interest in the outcome of these welding rod cases. As we have noted before, lawyers will pool resources to litigate cases.   A simple explanation of the welding rod arrangement comes from Suzanne Sataline writing in Legal Affairs:

The evidence-gathering is bankrolled by the 40 firms working with Scruggs; each chips in $50,000 to $100,000 to join the litigation, and Scruggs and his co-lead counsel seek additional contributions to cover costs as the need arises.


The last week has seen evidence of Special Master Britt Singletary’s representation of the IP and association with defendant Lee Bond. Special Fiduciary Steve Simpson has received campaign donations from Reeves’ law firm and Singing River’s lawyers.

We ask again: is this information that should have been disclosed to all parties?  We request again for all those acting in a judicial capacity to comply with the Code of Judicial Conduct’s mandates for disclosure.


View the full documents:  Caterpillar v. White  & A.O. Smith v. Thompson

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