Peeking under the Hood, cont’d: Mississippi has finally passed sunshine legislation exposing to public scrutiny dealings of its attorney general with outside law firms, which can make large sums in contingency arrangements representing the state [Maggie Haberman, Politico] Not exactly unrelatedly, a Mississippi court has ruled that a settlement of the state’s case against MCI can’t funnel $14 million separately to private lawyers representing Hood on the theory that it was just a side payment and never represented public funds [YallPolitics, earlier on now-disbarred lead private lawyer in case]
The cozy dealings between the state of Mississippi and well-connected private lawyers — especially the way the state comes to hire those lawyers on contingency fee to pursue high-ticket suits against outside defendants — have long furnished grist for this site. Now, opening a new chapter, Mississippi AG Jim Hood has hired former AG Michael Moore, like Hood a longtime Overlawyered favorite, to sue BP over the effects of the Transocean oil spill on the state. [AP, YallPolitics] Per YallPolitics, “Interestingly, there is no specific financial arrangement. Moore and Hood contractually agree to work it out later and have fees paid directly by BP to the as yet to be named legal team led by Moore.” When Moore hired later-disgraced Dickie Scruggs to represent Mississippi what was to develop into the most profitable litigation in history — the multistate tobacco caper — the financial details were likewise shrouded in secrecy, and it was later claimed that there was no written agreement.
The Mississippi Attorney General keeps defending a capital conviction based on dubious bite-mark testimony [Radley Balko, Reason]
- One for your “firefighter’s rule” file: firefighter perishes in blaze, his widow sues security alarm company [SF Chron, San Pablo, Calif.]
- And another: Nassau County, N.Y. cop injured by drunk driver while on duty is suing the county over Long Island Expressway design and signage [Newsday; Kenneth Baribault]
- Stop fighting over the $60 million in fees, judge tells feuding lawyers, your lawsuit has been over for four years now [Legal Intelligencer, corrugated paper antitrust class action]
- Public-health prof: red-light cameras “don’t work” and instead “increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop” [Bruce Schneier via Instapundit]
- Criminal prosecution of political attack ads? Time to rethink campaign finance law [Bainbridge]
- Teenagers send each other racy cellphone videos, and then their legal nightmare begins [Des Moines Register]
- Sounds interesting but haven’t seen a copy: “How To Get Sued: An Instructional Guide” by well-known blawger J. Craig Williams [Giacalone, Ambrogi]
- Mississippi AG Hood goes after MillerCoors over caffeinated alcohol drinks, but Anheuser-Busch hired Mike Moore and sprang big for DAGA, hmmm [Alan Lange, YallPolitics]
[A] large deal of the gleeful Spitzerfreude on Wall Street arose from of the poetic justice of Spitzer’s undoing at the hands of the same extra-judicial tactics he regularly used against Wall Street firms and corporate executives when he was attorney general of New York. The real scandal of Spitzer’s career was not so much the former Girls Gone Wild model as the prosecutors gone wild.
My retrospective of Eliot Spitzer as both archetype and victim of overaggressive prosecutors in the July/August American Spectator is now on line at the AEI website.
“Wow. Judge Acker found Scruggs and the Rigsby sisters jointly and severally liable for civil contempt and a fine of $65,000 in the Renfroe v. Rigsby case, relating to failure to promptly return the stolen State Farm claims files to Renfroe’s counsel.” Maybe stealing documents isn’t such a good strategy after all? And that’s aside from what the judge said about Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood — which starts with the epithet quoted in the post title, and just gets more stinging from there. (David Rossmiller, Jun. 5; Anita Lee, “Judge fines Scruggs, Rigsby sisters”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Jun. 6; order, opinion PDF). More: U.S. Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine (Hood’s response).
Some developments of the past ten days or so:
* In major blow to defense, Judge Biggers denies motions to suppress wiretap evidence and evidence of similar bad acts [Rossmiller]
* Balducci says he and Patterson got $500K from Scruggs to influence AG Hood to drop indictment of State Farm, motive being to advance civil settlement [Folo]
* Sen. Trent Lott says he’s a witness, not a target, of federal investigation [Anita Lee, Biloxi Sun-Herald]
* In effort to get Zack Scruggs indictment dismissed, his lawyers dwell on switch from “y’all” to “you” as implying shift in persons addressed from plural to singular [Folo first, second; Rossmiller first, second; on a “sweet potatoes” point, NMC @ Folo and sequel; also]
* DeLaughter/Peters branch of scandal reaches deep into Jackson legal community [Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press]
* Article in new American Lawyer notes that Scruggs’s ambitious suits have lately hit a big losing streak, notably those against HMOs, nonprofit hospitals and Lehman Brothers [Susan Beck]. And Lotus catches an interestingly lawyerly wording on John Keker’s part [Folo]
* I’m quoted and this site is discussed in an article on blog coverage of the case; my lack of clarity as an interviewee probably accounts for Scruggs being said to have addressed audiences at the Manhattan Institute “a few” times, when if memory serves the correct reference is “twice”. [Patsy Brumfield, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo) @ Folo]
In the state of Mississippi during the last 5 years, 27 law firms have been retained by Mississippi Attorney General James Hood to purse state lawsuits on contingency. Those firms have collectively donated more than a half-million dollars to Hood in the last two election cycles. Apparently, the legislature is troubled by this combination of for-profit motivation and campaign fundraising, and has passed a bill to pursue competitive bidding before signing contracts of more than $500,000 with private lawyers. It also requires a review board to examine contracts, and it limits contingency fees to $1 million.
Hood isn’t pleased — and the WSJ has his number:
Should state Attorneys General be able to outsource their legal work to for-profit tort lawyers, who then funnel a share of their winnings back to the AGs? That’s become a sleazy practice in many states, and it is finally coming under scrutiny — notably in Mississippi, home of Dickie Scruggs, Attorney General Jim Hood, and other legal pillars…
This kind of quid pro quo is legal in Mississippi and most other states. However, if this kind of sweetheart arrangement existed between a public official and business interests, you can bet Mr. Hood would be screaming about corruption. . . . A decision to prosecute is an awesome power, and it ought to be motivated by evidence and the law, not by the profit motives of private tort lawyers and the campaign needs of an ambitious Attorney General.”
That leaves a mark.
Big news day in the Scruggs scandals: a judge has turned down defense motions to throw out the charges and to suppress the evidence, a hearing on those motions has showcased the testimony of government informant Tim Balducci, and the government in responding to the motions has released extensive and often quite damning transcripts of the wiretap conversations among the principals. Folo as usual provides the most in-depth coverage, with posts on the judge’s rulings here and here, on the hearing and Balducci’s testimony here and in numerous preceding posts, and on the wiretap transcripts here and in numerous preceding posts. David Rossmiller is on the judge’s ruling here, and on the hearing and transcripts here. More: Patsy Brumfield, NEMDJ, was at the courthouse.
Picking through the rich contents of the transcripts and Balducci’s testimony is going to keep Scruggsians busy for a good long time. In the meanwhile, some odds and ends:
* Want to review all the major events of the central alleged bribery case, skillfully narrated in chronological sequence? Of course you do. Folo’s NMC has it in six parts beginning here and ending here (follow links to find those in between).
* Mississippi legislature won’t give AG Jim Hood authority to wiretap
his enemies suspected white-collar criminals. Gee, wonder why that might be? [WLBT via Lange] Plus: description of Hood as a Pez dispenser coughing out multi-million-dollar cases for his chums [Rossmiller]
* More Hood: prosecuting the accused judge-bribers “would be like prosecuting a relative” [Salter, Clarion-Ledger, Rossmiller, Folo]. Give back tainted money? “That’s up to DAGA [Democratic Attorneys General Association]” [Lange]
* Small world, Mississippi: member of arbitration panel that awarded Scruggs huge fees was later hired by the tort potentate for legal work [Lange]
* Blogosphere has been a major source for breaking news on the scandal [LegalNewsLine]
* Liberal columnist Bill Minor recalls when a certain Sen. McCain let Dickie Scruggs and Mike Moore run their tobacco lobbying campaign out of his Hill office [NEMDJ via Folo; more at PBS “Frontline” and NY Times]