The federal raid on the Oxford offices of Dickie Scruggs in November 2007 sent shockwaves through Mississippi's legal community that continues to end careers.

Attorneys Dickie Scruggs, Zach Scruggs, Timothy Balducci and Sidney Backstrom were disbarred, and along with former State Auditor Steve Patterson, pleaded guilty to charges related to an attempt to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.

Joey Langston's disbarment and guilty plea lead to the indictment of Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in a matter also involving former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters.

The Scruggs saga follows by a few years a scandal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast resulting in the convictions of trial lawyer Paul Minor, Harrison County Circuit Judge John Whitfield and Chancery Judge Wes Teel.

Prosecutors implicated Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz and his wife, but Oliver Diaz was found not guilty and his wife pleaded guilty to a tax charge.

Judges going to jail with lawyers who conspired to corrupt them shakes public confidence in the legal system.

In February 2008 the Mississippi Bar Association created the "Task Force to Strengthen Confidence in the Legal System" to "examine our legal system and make recommendations to insure the honesty and integrity of the Bar and fairness and impartiality with the Judiciary." That task force has released its report for public comment by members of the Bar.

The report begins, "The legal system in Mississippi has recently been inexcusably shamed by investigations, indictments, convictions and pleas involving lawyers and even judges...these recent events have caused widespread loss of respect for, and loss of confidence in, our legal system as a whole." Because such a system "will not long by tolerated by the society it is expected to serve" the task force suggests several reforms to "heal our legal system."

The report calls money the "core of today's mistrust of Mississippi's legal system" with the crux being the high cost of elections for the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the "staggering" fees awarded to outside lawyers hired by the office of attorney general to sue on behalf of the state.

The report recommends moving from an elected to an appointed system for choosing member of the Supreme Court. This idea actually became an issue in a 2008 supreme court campaign. Former Chief Justice Jim Smith had suggested the study of and consideration of just such an alteration. His opponent, Jim Kitchens, used that as a campaign issue and spent nearly a million dollars in his successful campaign to unseat Smith.

Opponents of an appointed judiciary point to states that use it to show judicial selection becomes no less partisan or divided as a result. The same interests that seek to persuade voters shift their attention to take control of appointment committees, or turn their attention to the governor when he is the mechanism to make appointments.

The task force criticizes advertisements in recent supreme court races calling them "not only misleading and deceptive but also more and more vituperative, turning what once were dignified contests into virtual battlegrounds of unfairness and ugliness."

While recognizing the First Amendment rights of third party organizations to engage in those campaigns, the report suggests, "while it may not be constitutionally possible to legislate accountability for dishonest or unethical or misleading judicial advertising, an informed public can use the ballot box to dissuade and to ultimately stamp out such conduct."

The report notes the role of Mississippi's Attorney General has changed over the years from a legal advisor and chief lawyer to a "high profile crusader." It says, "More and more, the office [of attorney general] has exercised its power to pursue high-profile criminal investigations and/or highly-publicized civil cases. Public confidence that such power is not subject to potential misuse is essential. The means to public confidence is a fully informed public."

The report recommends: "Fees paid to private lawyers appointed as special assistant state attorneys general should be subject to open and impartial scrutiny." Such openness should be in writing and on the internet, include disclosures of any campaign contributions or gifts between the attorney in contract and the attorney general, contain records of time spent and expenses incurred, and involve outside and independent (the report recommends judicial) approval of the fees.

The Mississippi Legislature is currently considering shining just such accountability onto the Attorney General, which would fulfill this recommendation by the task force. (In full disclosure, I have a client who is promoting "sunshine legislation" before the Legislature.)

Other recommendations by the task force include greater disclosure of lawyers who contribute to judicial campaigns, creating a procedure for an independent resolution of recusal motions, increased judicial and legal education, and higher salaries for judges.

Members of the Mississippi Bar have until March 30 to submit comments to the task force, before the report is reviewed by the Mississippi Bar Association.

Brian Perry, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him

at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.