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Hood to renew push for wiretap power in ’09

Attorney General Jim Hood says he’ll try again next year to get the authority to use wiretaps while investigating white-collar crimes.

A wiretapping bill passed the Mississippi House but died in the Senate during the 3 1/2-month session that ended Friday.

Hood spoke Monday during a luncheon sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

He said state investigators can use wiretaps in drug cases, but not in cases of jury tampering or in white-collar crimes. He said recordings can help convince jurors that a defendant is guilty.

“You get ’em by their own words,” Hood said.

Some lawmakers worried that an attorney general could prosecute political enemies if given wiretap authority.

“It’s unfortunate that I think politics got involved in the decision of whether or not our state law enforcement ought to be able to do it,” Hood said. “Of course, you’ve got to go through a judge, just like your search warrant.”

Hood praised lawmakers for passing several bills he wanted, including one to limit defendants’ access to pictures or other evidence in child pornography cases.

Legislators also expanded some protection for domestic violence victims and officially made judicial bribery a state crime.

One of the bills that died this session was a proposal pushed by Hood’s critics. It would’ve required the attorney general’s office to take bids before awarding contracts to private law firms to work on behalf of the state.

The proposal was backed by pro-business groups that called it a “sunshine” bill.

Hood has been criticized for hiring private attorneys who have been campaign contributors. His predecessor, fellow Democrat Mike Moore, was criticized for the same practice.

Hood said the attorney general’s office has a fair policy for hiring private firms.

“We have a system that if someone brings us a case and they’ve got the money to back it and they’ve got the ability to handle it and it’s a good case, then they get the case,” he said.

He said there are only eight or 10 law firms in Mississippi that are large enough and wealthy enough to pay the upfront costs of handling massive litigation on behalf of the state. Private attorneys get paid only after a case is finished.