Disbarred attorney wants to help struggling students
Former attorney Zach Scruggs taught GED classes while imprisoned in Forrest City, Ark., without any inkling that his father, former attorney Dickie Scruggs, was doing the same while serving his own federal sentence almost 600 miles away in Kentucky.
Literacy was not really on their radar while they practiced law, but it is their mission today.
After he returned home to Oxford in 2014, Dickie Scruggs founded and has been funding Second Chance Mississippi, a nonprofit aimed at helping Mississippians secure GEDs and technical skills that lead to work. His son, who was released from prison in 2009 after serving 12 months, eventually moved his family to Orlando, Fla., to work for a solar and renewable energy company.
Zach Scruggs has been commuting to help with Second Chance. He plans to move back to Oxford by mid-July to serve as Second Chance's executive director. He will do so without pay, he said.
"I want to keep administrative costs as small as possible," Zach Scruggs said in a telephone interview. "Everything we raise is going to promote adult education and workforce training."
"That starts with me as executive director. We want to be lean and small and directed in what we're doing."
Dickie Scruggs' first goal for Second Chance is to double the number of Mississippians earning GEDs. Second Chance has established a partnership with Mississippi's 15 community colleges, which offer GED and technical-training programs.
Zach Scruggs plans to establish tax-exempt status for Second Chance, build pilot programs for literacy and technical training, and find ways to make sure the organization can sustain itself financially.
While in Florida, he founded his own company TimeSave Energy Solutions, which specializes in developing and financing clean-energy projects. His experience in program development, he said, has given him skills that transfer to Second Chance.
"When I started," he said, "I don't think I could spell solar."
Both Scruggses lost their law licenses when they were convicted in a judicial bribery case, Dickie Scruggs of conspiring to bribe a judge and Zach Scruggs of failing to report a felony. No evidence showed Zach Scruggs knew about the bribe, but he did realize a lawyer working with the Scruggses visited the judge in question outside the courtroom.
Their literacy venture contrasts sharply with the battles they undertook as attorneys, their last clients being policyholders who sued insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina.
"The (literacy) cause sells itself," said Zach Scruggs, who got into the habit of calling his father by his first name while they practiced law. "Dick is very passionate about it and it's infectious."
"Adult education and workforce training is something everyone supports," he said. "Everyone's for that - Republican, Democrat -- no matter where they fall on any spectrum."
Dickie Scruggs, known statewide and nationally from his days as a litigator, has traveled Mississippi to raise awareness and money. Members of the Gulfport Rotary Club recently contributed $2,500 during a luncheon where Scruggs spoke.
The money went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where it is being used to support students, including one woman whose family needed groceries. Second Chance believes it's important to support students struggling to stay in school. As Dickie Scruggs told the Gulfport Rotarians, some students are only one flat tire away from dropping out.
Civic groups provide more than financial support. Their members also have skills they can use to help students. The Scruggses believe it's just a matter of making these groups and their members aware of the need.
For example, after Dickie Scruggs spoke to the Indianola Rotary, an ophthalmologist volunteered his services to adult students at Mississippi Delta Community College, treating a 35-year-old GED student to her first eye exam and a pair of glasses.
The Gautier Rotary Club took care of an eye exam for a student at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, while St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Oxford donated $240 to cover the cost of GED exams for two adult students at Northwest Mississippi Community College.