Prison led tort lawyer, Scruggs, to promote education

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 18, 2015

After his release from federal prison, Dickie Scruggs realized a lot of Mississippians were like him. They needed a second chance.

Scruggs, who was once the country’s most powerful tort attorney, spent six of the last seven years in federal custody for a judicial bribery scheme, but while behind bars, he found new purpose through helping provide GED education, he told Port City Kiwanis at their meeting this week.

The prison experience led Scruggs to found and become spokesman for Second Chance Mississippi, a nonprofit that helps adults get their high school-equivalency diplomas.

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“No one is magic. I thought I was. Everything I had done practically in my life had turned to gold. I screwed up so many ways. This one came up to me out of the blue. I didn’t expect it. It was arrogance and a sense of invincibility,” Scruggs said.

Scruggs was one of the architects of the multibillion-dollar tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s and pleaded guilty in 2008 to attempting to bribe Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey and also pleaded guilty in 2009 to improperly influencing then Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in a civil lawsuit.

Lackey is perhaps best known locally for serving as judge in the embezzlement case against former Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree.

After his conviction, Scruggs was disbarred permanently.

“There were sometimes in my practice that I thought I was on a mission from God, that I was on a crusade and whatever I did was OK because whatever I was trying to accomplish was for the greater good. It just wasn’t the case. I really did overreach my grasp,” Scruggs said.

While in prison, which he described as a place of “absolute hopelessness,” Scruggs began tutoring fellow inmates who needed help passing their GED exams.

“It gave me a new sense of purpose to teach these guys. I taught math, which was my worst subject, so I had to go back and learn it before I could teach it,” Scruggs said.

After his release, Scruggs was listening to a Mississippi Public Radio broadcast where a Hinds Community College representative was speaking about the high number of Mississippians who don’t have a high school education and how the state’s community college system is mandated to educate adults.

“We have over half a million Mississippi adults with no high school diploma,” Scruggs said.

Yet funding for adult education pales in comparison to K-12.

“Adult education is sort of the stepchild of education. It gets about a tenth of the money that K-12 gets,” Scruggs said.

Many people view adults seeking a GED or job skills as people who have squandered their chance, yet Scruggs saw a connection between these adult students and himself.

“It’s not a lack of intelligence, it’s a lack of focus,” said Scruggs, who admits he lost focus in his law practice.

The process might not be easy, but everyone, he said, deserves that second chance.

“If you can get them back in the classroom for about a year, you can get them a GED and a skill certification. It’s a small commitment of time. If they weren’t motivated, they wouldn’t be there,” Scruggs said.

Scruggs sent a letter to Hinds Community College saying he wanted to help promote adult education and they told him about the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training or MI-BEST program.

“This program is revolutionary in a way. Simultaneously as community colleges are offering GED and adult education, they’re also offering skill training,” Scruggs said.

While a GED shows a student has a basic education, it doesn’t show they have any marketable skill. The MI-BEST program works to change that by allowing them to prove their smarts in the classroom and with the workforce.

“It’s hard to believe this hasn’t been the program all along,” Scruggs said.

While Scruggs is leading the nonprofit and drumming up support and dollars for workforce development training, his organization is not accepting any donations directly.

“Any contributions we’re able to solicit goes straight into the Community College Foundation earmarked for the MI-BEST program,” Scruggs said.

For more information on Second Chance Mississippi, visit, call 601-265-1895 or email