Hopkins questions legal contracts; Hood says challenger inflates resume

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Republican Alben Hopkins says Mississippi’s Democratic attorney general, Jim Hood, has a pattern of awarding state contracts to campaign donors.

Hood, in turn, says the challenger is misleading voters by running campaign ads that exaggerate Hopkins’ own work experience.

The two candidates face off in the Nov. 6 general election. They spoke to about 75 people Monday during a luncheon sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government.

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During his speech at the Capital Club in downtown Jackson, Hopkins pointed out campaign donations Hood has received from private attorneys with state contracts. Among other cases, Hopkins mentioned the $14 million fee awarded to Joey Langston and Tim Balducci, private attorneys who represented the state in a case to recover $100 million in overdue taxes from telecommunications giant MCI. Langston, of Booneville, has been one of Hood’s top campaign contributors.

“There is a pattern of behavior that creates an unhealthy perception of your attorney general’s office in the state of Mississippi,” said Hopkins, 66, who’s in private practice in Gulfport. “We don’t know if he’s selling state contracts for campaign contributions or just suffers bad judgment.”

Hood, 45, is a former district attorney from seven counties in north Mississippi and was sworn in to the statewide office in January 2004. He said the attorney general’s office has several contracts that are awarded to private attorneys or law firms on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

“It’s kind of like intellectual property. They’re bringing you an idea,” Hood said. “And we give it to whomever it is, and if they’ve got the ability to handle it and the wherewithal to handle it and the money to back it, they’ve got the case. If they don’t, we encourage them to go out and find other lawyers who they can team up with and work the cases. We don’t do it on partisanship.”

Hood said Hopkins is misleading voters with campaign ads that say Hopkins has been chief judge of the Mississippi Military Court of Appeals since 1996. Hood said the court has not met since Hopkins has been in the position.

“He’s got an ad that indicates he’s got 42 years of experience and it tries to infer that it is all on the Military Court of Appeals, a court which has never met,” Hood said. “My opponent’s all hat and no cowboy.”

Responding to questions about that, Hopkins said the court meets only when there is a case on appeal, and the last time that happened was when then-Gov. Ray Mabus tried to fire the adjutant general in 1990.

“I’m not padding my resume. That’s a true statement. I am the chief judge of the Military Court of Appeals,” Hopkins said. “I guess you could say the people in the military in the state of Mississippi are first-class individuals, every one of them. And they don’t get into trouble.”

The attorneys’ fees awarded in the MCI case have been a frequent subject in campaign speeches this year. State Auditor Phil Bryant, a Republican who’s running for lieutenant governor, has sent Langston a letter demanding that the $14 million be turned over to the state. Bryant says the money should be put into the state budget so legislators can decide how to spend it.

In a news release Monday, Langston said he and Balducci are asking a federal bankruptcy court to confirm the validity of its order directing MCI to pay the $14 million in fees.

“Bryant’s demand has nothing to do with the law and everything to do with politics,” Langston said.

On the Net:

Jim Hood campaign: http://www.jimhood07.com

Al Hopkins campaign: http://www.alforag.com