"I'll take care of it." Those five words from Dickie Scruggs sealed his fate, and begin chapter one of "Kings of Tort: The true story of Dickie Scruggs, Paul Minor, and two decades of political and legal manipulation in Mississippi." Captivated, I read it in two sittings.

This book by Jackson businessman and Y'all Politics publisher Alan Lange, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Dawson, starts with all the nervous intrigue, betrayal, and corruption of a John Grisham thriller. Attorney Tim Balducci banters in an Oxford legal office with Zach Scruggs, Sidney Backstrom, and Dickie Scruggs, about a judge targeted for bribery. But, Balducci had changed teams; he represented a new client. The FBI confronted him hours earlier on a country road. Now he wore a wire in Operation Benchmark to eventually send all four attorneys and former State Auditor Steve Patterson to prison.

"Kings of Tort" tells of the downfall of some of Mississippi's most prominent trial lawyers. The book walks the reader through Scruggs' humble roots in Pascagoula and how he first hit it big with asbestos lawsuits. His partners - Robert Wilson, Jr. and Alwyn Luckey, Jr. - each would eventually file suit against Scruggs over disputed legal fees. Wilson v Scruggs and Luckey v Scruggs haunted him for decades.

Scruggs joined with Mississippi attorneys Don Barrett and Paul Minor, and then Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore and political operative P.L. Blake, to take down Big Tobacco. The billion dollars earned in his success was threatened by his asbestos fees disputes which claimed he used funds belonging to his former partners to bankroll the tobacco litigation, and thus they had claim to his new riches.

Meanwhile, a regularly scheduled banking review at the Peoples Bank of Biloxi piqued the suspicions of banking regulators. A strange pattern of loans from Scruggs partner Paul Minor to various judges generated a call to the U.S. Attorney's Office. As a result, Minor and Judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel were indicted, convicted, and sent to prison. Then Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz was tried and acquitted, and his wife Jennifer Diaz plead guilty to tax evasion.

Left-wing conspiracies suggest Minor is a political prisoner, prosecuted through a Karl Rove conspiracy in the Bush Justice Department. But this book proves a convincing case for Minor's guilt (already determined by jury of his peers) and shares the evidence of his attempts to cover-up his misdeeds.

Chapter by chapter the book describes legal intrigue: Joey Langston's $17 million in fees from the MCI-WorldCom litigation; Scruggs' push against HMOs; Judge Bobby DeLaughter, Langston and former Hinds District Attorney Ed Peters; the personal and political friendships of these players with Attorney General Jim Hood; and the Hurricane Katrina State Farm litigation that led to yet another fee dispute between Scruggs and a former partner, Johnny Jones of Jackson.

The book describes Jones v Scruggs as the lynchpin case in the mind of Scruggs to protect his financial empire. If he settled or lost Jones, it might weaken his defense in Wilson or Luckey. A loss on those cases would threaten his tobacco fees. He needed a victory when Jones appeared before Judge Henry Lackey and dispatched Balducci to create advantage.

The remainder of the book tells of the investigation, prosecution, and negotiations of Operation Benchmark and the cases generally referred to as Scruggs I and Scruggs II. The book also discloses the questioning of then U.S. Senator Trent Lott by phone and later in person regarding his call to DeLaughter on behalf of Scruggs (Lott's wife's brother-in-law), and reveals the thoughts inside the U.S. Attorney's Office at the announcement of Lott's retirement - the day before the FBI raided the Scruggs Law Firm's offices on the square in Oxford.

Another book about the downfall of tort titan Dickie Scruggs is forthcoming from acclaimed retired journalist Curtis Wilkie, Associate Professor at the University of Mississippi. "Fall of the House of Zeus" benefits from interviews with Dickie and Zach Scruggs denied to Dawson and Lange. Wilkie acknowledges a friendship with Scruggs.

None of the players in Operation Benchmark went to trial. There were no opening or closing remarks from prosecution or defense. Perhaps these two books will serve that purpose: one coauthored by a prosecutor; the other written with the assistance of the defendants. Regardless of the stories told in either book, the guilty verdict has already been admitted, and nothing can enhance or diminish that outcome.

Lange and Dawson will be launching a book tour on December 2 at the Pinnacle Building in downtown Jackson from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, sponsored by Lemuria Books. They will address the Stennis-Capitol Press Corps noon luncheon on December 7 at the University Club, also in downtown Jackson. More information about the book, and all the documents cited in the book, can be viewed online at KingsOfTort.com.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm and can be reached at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.