Scrushy Attorney Critiques

March 4, 2007

Lawyer Jim Parkman had something interesting to say about the outcome of Richard Scrushy’s political corruption trial in Montgomery.

Parkman, the man who helped the HealthSouth founder beat the odds and the rap in his Birmingham fraud trial, told The American Lawyer that Scrushy’s lawyers flubbed it in the Montgomery trial that resulted in conviction.

“I don’t say this to malign other lawyers, but I have no doubt I could have won the (second trial),” Parkman told the trade journal in a post-mortem on Scrushy’s legal travails. “They made it a trial about paper and documents, when it should have been about people.”

The reasons for Scrushy’s victory in Birmingham and his failure in Montgomery continue to be examined in legal circles. And for good reason – there are still major corporate fraud cases awaiting trial.

One of them is in Denver, where former Qwest Chief Executive Joseph Nacchio is scheduled to be tried beginning March 19 on charges relating to stock sales prosecutors contend were illegal. One of those prosecutors: Colleen Conry, a member of the team that handled Scrushy’s case in Birmingham.

Birmingham lawyer Lewis Gillis, who helped defend Scrushy in that case, told the Rocky Mountain News that Conry was “too smart for the group she was with,” a prosecutorial team that “didn’t really understand how to try a case on the street level.”

“They were on different sheets of music,” Gillis added.

The American Lawyer piece hit on many other failings. The prosecutors didn’t seem to get along and openly battled with Judge Karon Bowdre, it says. They indicted Scrushy on 85 counts, a “kitchen sink approach” that would backfire because the case couldn’t be simplified. They allowed the defense to destroy their key witnesses.

Scrushy’s team, which featured Parkman, Donald Watkins and Art Leach, had charisma and clicked in the courtroom.

“The defense team daily held a veritable love-in at its table – Watkins, Parkman and Leach hugged, joked, and chatted up everyone in the courtroom from the court reporter to the janitor,” the trade journal wrote.

In Montgomery, the magic was gone.

“Scrushy’s lawyers lost their cool in the courtroom. They often appeared rudderless, and allowed the other side to dictate the pace of action,” American Lawyer noted. “And they made comparisons between Scrushy and Martin Luther King Jr. that even one of their colleagues calls over the top.”

Parkman, who wasn’t involved in the case, said the defense team erred by bringing in veteran civil rights lawyer Fred Gray because it looked like he was brought in for “one reason and one reason only, to buy the African American vote.”

Of course, Scrushy’s legal troubles didn’t end with the conviction in Montgomery.

He still faces a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission in Birmingham charging that he orchestrated the accounting fraud at HealthSouth – a charge he has always denied. A trial is scheduled to begin this summer.

Unless it’s settled, expect another memorable courtroom battle. And, yes, Parkman is on the case. Jerry Underwood is business editor of The News. His e-mail: junderwood@bhamnews.com.

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