Hood: Partisan politics has no place in Scruggs saga

John O'Brien Mar. 17, 2008, 6:16pm


JACKSON, Miss. - Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said Monday he hopes that the saga of admitted felon and prominent trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs won't become another reason for Republicans and Democrats to fight.

He made the remark after the chairman of the state GOP called for the return of campaign contributions made by Scruggs and an investigation into any relationship Scruggs and his associates have with Hood, a Democrat.

"(G)iven the Republican Party's sudden pronouncement in this matter, the question must be asked: Has this entire sad and disappointing chapter in Mississippi history dissolved into ruinous partisan politics?" Hood said.

"For the sake of our citizens, I hope not."

GOP chairman Jim Herring said state Supreme Court Chief Justice James Smith should appoint independent counsel to conduct the investigation, which would be fully funded and be aided by subpoena power.

Scruggs and associate Sidney Backstrom both pleaded guilty Friday to offering $50,000 to Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey in exchange for a favorable ruling in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned in Hurricane Katrina settlements. He faces a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Attorney Sidney Backstrom and former state Auditor Steven Patterson also pleaded guilty to the scheme. Attorney Joey Langston pleaded guilty to another judicial bribery scheme involving a Scruggs attorneys fees dispute.

Hood has drawn for criticism for not filing state charges in either. He said that because he has hired Langston to represent the State that some may think a conflict of interest would exist.

When asked by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's editorial board, he said filing charges "would be like prosecuting a relative."

"The federal government is handling these cases," Hood said. "The district attorneys of the State of Mississippi are, in essence, independent prosecutors, and my office has made available to them every resource we possess should they decide to pursue state charges."

One of the organizations the GOP requested return Scruggs money is the Democratic Attorneys General Association, which gave Hood $400,000 shortly after Scruggs donated $300,000 and Langston $100,000 to it.

Scruggs donated more than $27,000 to the GOP from 2002-04. He gained much of his fame negotiating the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which has an estimated worth of $246 billion to the 52 participating states and territories. Attorneys earned $1.4 billion in the settlement.

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