Two developments in the ongoing Scruggs scandals last week have folks asking: "Who's next?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Norman explained Dickie Scruggs is now a cooperating witness, "His cooperation has opened several doors we need to investigate." And, the prison report dates for former State Auditor Steve Patterson and former attorney Timothy Balducci were set so they could testify before another federal grand jury prior to March 25.

In Scruggs I, Dickie Scruggs and his coconspirators sought to corruptly influence Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $40,000 delivered through Balducci, whom Lackey considered a friend. Scruggs wanted a favorable ruling in a $26.5 million lawsuit fee dispute.

In Scruggs II, Joey Langston divulged that Scruggs paid him, Patterson, and Ed Peters $3 million as a reward for exerting influence on Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter. The conspirators exploited DeLaughter's friendship with Peters and dangled a federal judicial appointment to seek favorable rulings. DeLaughter reduced a $15 million recommendation against Scruggs to $1.5 million. Last week, DeLaughter plead not guilty to a five-count indictment.

The March grand jury could lead to indictments cleaning up residual players in the first two conspiracies. While Peters appears to be cooperating, neither he nor P.L. Blake (described by Balducci as Scruggs' "bagman") have been publically charged with wrongdoing. Following the methodology of the first two cases, it would not surprise me to see the Department of Justice looking toward a Scruggs III.

In a FBI report and subsequent testimony before a federal grand jury, Balducci described a plan by Scruggs to influence Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to drop his criminal investigation of State Farm Insurance so they would come to civil settlement with the Scruggs Katrina Group involving $20 million in fees.

On Nov. 27, 2007, Balducci told the grand jury, "You had on the one hand the Scruggs Group which was suing State Farm and aggressively pursuing them in civil litigation. And at the same time you had the Attorney General who was investigating and threatening to indict the company and prosecute them criminally....State Farm was not going to settle these civil cases unless they could be assured that the Attorney General was not going to prosecute them criminally...me and my partner Steve Patterson have had a long relationship with the Attorney General. And the Attorney General in fact is distantly related to Steve, my partner. And General Hood and I have known each other for a long time going back to when he was the DA here and when I was a practicing lawyer here. We had a close relationship."

Balducci went on to explain that Scruggs paid him and Patterson $500,000 to meet with Attorney General Hood to get his dispute with State Farm resolved to "pave the way for Scruggs to settle his State Farm cases." Balducci said, "We were successful." He and Patterson returned to tell Scruggs "we had completed the job that he had hired us to do....".

Balducci and Patterson met with Hood in late 2006. In January 2007, after presenting information to a Jackson County grand jury, Hood declined to prosecute. Shortly afterward, the Scruggs Katrina Group settled with State Farm.

Hood admitted he met with Balducci and Patterson, but remains firm that their meeting had nothing to do with his decision to drop his criminal pursuit of State Farm. He issued a statement, "The decision on whether to indict State Farm Insurance Company was based solely on the advice of senior prosecutors in our office...the majority of the prosecutors working on this case determined with a high level of certainty that no fact pattern existed that fell squarely within the insurance fraud statute. I made my decision that there was insufficient evidence to uphold a conviction of State Farm...I am too hardheaded to be influenced by outside forces - I do what I think is right for the working people of Mississippi."

In February 2008, during a civil lawsuit against Hood, a State Farm attorney suggested in his questioning that Patterson and Balducci told Hood that if he didn't cooperate, Scruggs would fund a candidate against him for Attorney General. Hood replied that such was "absolutely not" the case and "if you're asking me did somebody come to me and threaten me, the answer is no."

At a press conference later that month, Hood said of the meeting, "If I knew they were getting paid that much I would have told them to get out of the office because it just didn't smell right." When asked about a political threat from Scruggs he said, "I didn't care who (Scruggs) supported. I wasn't crazy about being attorney general anyway.'

Balducci, Patterson, and Scruggs appear to have attempted to inappropriately influence Mississippi's Attorney General. For his sake, and the sake of the state, I hope they failed.

Brian Perry, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.