Friday, April 15, 2011

The book of greed.

I recently finished reading Curtis Wilkie's Fall of the House of Zeus, which chronicles the meteoric rise and subsequent indictment of Dickie Scruggs. Wow.

If you aren't familiar with Dickie Sruggs, he was a home-grown Mississippi trial lawyer who took on some of America's biggest businesses and won. He landed big settlements for victims of asbestos poisoning in Mississippi and later went on to litigate Mississippi's tobacco settlement, a HUGE case that sent ripple effects throughout the United States and made Scruggs a millionaire for life.

As you read the book, you'll learn more than you ever wanted to know about a parade of familiar Mississippi politicians and lawyers. Even more astonishing, though, the book pulls back the curtain a bit and shows you how things really get done in state politics and law.

Wilkie delineates the connections between local business leaders, elected officials, and others with clout, and these connections are countless. The people that run this state went to Ole Miss together, pledged the same fraternity, grew up in the same small town, etc. And how do things get done once these folks are in positions of power? Well, one calls in a personal favor to another, and that's pretty much that.

In other words, your average John Q. Public, who doesn't happen to have such connections, doesn't have a prayer when trying to get legislation passed or effect some other desired outcome. He's not part of the network.

The other thing that disturbed me was the absolute greed I read about in this book. For many of these lawyers, $1 million in fees wasn't considered acceptable. (How can a million dollars be unacceptable?! I find it difficult to grasp.) They were all after what Wilkie calls the "big lick" - a giant settlement that would support a lavish lifestyle indefinitely. And the awful thing is, many of them got it. Private jets, multiple homes, frequent world travel, expensive cars and jewelry. The pursuit of these things dominated their thoughts, and some of the "characters" Wilkie writes about also seemed to begrudge other colleagues their success.

While reading this book certainly won't shore up your faith in humanity, I did find it fascinating. And aptly named. The story of Dickie Scruggs is something of a Greek tragedy.

Worth reading.

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