Attorney General Jim Hood trekked to Washington in May to ask Congress
to rewrite federal law so he can sue Gulf oil spill companies in state
court. Like so many state AGs these days, Mr. Hood is looking to cash
in with his Magnolia State legal home boys one more time.
a backstage look at what's doing in Jackson, we recommend a tour
through the emails made public this month as part of litigation
related to Mr. Hood's last big legal shakedown, against insurers after
Hurricane Katrina. As we wrote at the time, Mr. Hood used his powers
of criminal investigation to soak property and casualty insurers, and
to ensure that his trial bar retinue got part of the cut. A
particularly large share went to tort kingpin Dickie Scruggs, who is
now in jail for an unrelated attempt to bribe a judge.
a March 15, 2007 "Mississippi
Justice" editorial, we laid out how this AG-Scruggs
back-scratching worked. Scruggs had coached two sisters who worked as
adjustors to take some 15,000 pages of documents from a State Farm
contractor. When a federal judge ordered Scruggs to return what he
called the "purloined" documents, Mr. Hood interceded,
advising Scruggs to send the documents to him—out of the reach of
the federal court and State Farm, which wouldn't know what had been
taken and would be less able to defend itself.
Hood then used the threat of the documents to pressure State Farm to
settle simultaneously with him and Scruggs for $130 million. This
tag-team mugging was so blatant that the federal judge asked that
Scruggs be prosecuted for criminal contempt and stated that Mr. Hood
and Scruggs had "teamed up to bully State Farm into civil and
criminal settlements." Even the federal judge who ultimately
dismissed the contempt charges against Scruggs on technical grounds
agreed there was a "cloud of suspicion surrounding the agreement
between Scruggs and Hood."
editorial nonetheless infuriated Mr. Hood, who wrote
us to deny he was ever in "collusion" with Scruggs.
So imagine our surprise when State Farm, as part of continuing Katrina
litigation, recently released more than 400 pages of emails it had
obtained from the public-relations outfit that once served the Scruggs
Law Firm. It turns out that Mr. Hood was so tight with the Mississippi
tort mob that he turned to them for help to refute our arguments that
he was . . . in bed with the Mississippi tort mob.
5:48 a.m. on the morning our editorial ran, Mr. Hood had whipped off
an email entitled "Draft Response to Another Wall Street Journal
Attack." It was addressed to 18 individuals, many of them
Mississippi trial lawyers. It read: "Friends, Please email me
your thoughts on this draft response to the attached article in
today's Wall Street Journal. Don't worry, this is just my initial
Hood rails that our claim that he helped Scruggs with his settlement
is "actionable and compensable for libel." He
"demands" that we "retract this allegation and reveal
who told" us this "lie." And he insists that we reveal
our "bias" to readers by "releasing how much insurance
and related companies pay your journal annually." Had he asked,
we would have told him that we operate independently of our
email was sent to Dickie Scruggs, who forwarded it to the Rendon
Group, the firm's PR outfit. Mr. Hood's other email
"friends" included Scrugg's lawyer son Zach (who also served
time in the bribery case), Joey Langston (convicted in a separate
bribery case), Don Barrett (who helped Scruggs sue State Farm), former
state AG Mike Moore (who worked with Scruggs on his Katrina lawsuits
and with Mr. Hood on his insurance litigation), and trial lawyers
Danny Cupit and William Liston (retained by Mr. Hood's office to help
prosecute, and profit from, his insurance litigation). Most of these
lawyers are also top Hood campaign donors, thus completing the circle
of mutual reward.
isn't clear what feedback Mr. Hood received on his draft, though a
separate email has a senior Rendon PR executive directing a colleague
to "please clean up" the AG's prose. We ran a toned-down
letter to the editor from Mr. Hood on March 23, 2007.
for the rest of the Rendon emails, they offer an amusing insight into
a Mississippi trial cabal that plots together and is acutely aware
that its ability to reap huge paydays from suing private business
depends on a friendly media willing to portray it as defenders of the
little guy. One email reports that the Rendon PR firm called (former
Senator) Trent Lott's office for help burnishing its clients' image.
Mr. Lott is Dickie Scruggs's brother-in-law.
target was David Rossmiller, an Oregon attorney who did the nation a
service by blogging the details of the Hood-trial bar insurance
litigation. In response to one Rossmiller post, Zach Scruggs orders
the Rendon team to dig into Mr. Rossmiller's life and "EXPOSE
wonder Mr. Hood now wants Congress to rewrite the laws that currently
direct litigation against BP and other oil firms to federal court.
Mississippi is famed for its jackpot justice, and as the emails
reveal, Mr. Hood and his cabal work together to squeeze settlements
from their targets. As with the Katrina litigation, the Pascagoula
lawsuit society is hoping for the mother of all jackpots against Big
Oil. If the AG can keep this litigation at home, he can use the powers
of his office to work with this crew to hit another gusher.
and the other companies involved in the spill will be writing big
checks no matter where the cases are adjudicated, and rightly so. But
Mr. Hood offered no compelling reason in his Congressional testimony
that the lawsuits against the oil giant belong outside of federal
court. The only reason would be to allow Mr. Hood and his
"friends" greater ability to stack the deck against industry
and the rule of law.