Miss. Senate approves public review of AG’s outside contracts

Published 11:11 pm Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Mississippi Senate voted in favor of a bill that would force the state’s attorney general to go through a public review process before entering contracts with private attorneys.

The bill, which passed 29-18, was supported by critics of Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood, who say he has given lucrative state contracts to private attorneys, some of whom have donated to his political campaigns.

Hood said the legislation would put Mississippi in a vulnerable position in cases against big corporations, which would be tipped off about possible lawsuits.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“If you make it public, then the company may go sue you in New York or somewhere,” Hood said Friday after the Senate vote. “They want control to prevent us from recouping the taxpayers’ money from corporate wrongdoers.”

When Mississippi files a lawsuit, the attorney general’s office often has to seek private attorneys to assist in the litigation. The bill debated Friday would require Hood to notify the agency if a lawsuit was about to be filed on its behalf and to seek bids on the contract. The contract would then undergo a review by the state Personnel Board.

The bill moves to the House for more work. Similar bills have died there in the past.

Opponents of the bill said it would strip the attorney general of the constitutional authority to make decisions about litigation. They also complained that Hood had not been consulted about the proposed changes.

Judiciary A Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the legislation could “rehabilitate the reputation of our legal community. All we’re asking in this bill is for (the attorney general) to keep records. I think that makes good sense.”

Fillingane cited attorney Joey Langston of Booneville as an example of “a mistake” made by Hood. Langston received $14 million in legal fees for assisting in the state’s successful lawsuit against MCI, Inc. The state received $118 million from the lawsuit about overdue taxes.

Langston also has made hefty contributions to Hood’s campaigns.

Earlier this month, Langston pleaded guilty to conspiring with attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and other associates to illegally influence Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in a separate dispute over attorneys’ fees from asbestos litigation.

Fillingane suggested that Hood should not have used Langston in the MCI lawsuit.

“We’re trying to give the attorney general’s office the tools to not make that same mistake again in retrospect,” Fillingane said.

Said Hood: “If this is about me taking money from lawyers, there’s hundreds of lawyers out there that never give me a dime that we have contracts with.”

Hood’s predecessor, Democrat Mike Moore, used private attorneys to file a high-profile lawsuit against tobacco companies in the 1990s. Several of them contributed to Moore’s campaigns.

Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, unsuccessfully tried to block a vote on the bill Friday. She held the bill for more debate before it moves to the House.

Harden said Hood is supporting another sunshine bill on private attorneys’ contracts, and that Fillingane should have consulted with him.

“The problem here is communication,” Harden said.

The sunshine legislation advocated by Hood would require lawyers to keep track of their time and notify agency heads when a lawsuit is filed on behalf of the agency. Similar provisions are in the bill that passed Friday.

The bill is Senate Bill 2188.