Hood will pursue wiretap authority again
JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Following the Mississippi Legislature's decision not to pass a bill that would give wiretap authority to his office, state Attorney General Jim Hood said he will try again next year.
Hood made the remarks at a recent luncheon, according to a report by The Associated Press. The power of federal investigators to use their wiretap powers was recently on display in Mississippi's recent judicial bribery scandals.
"You got 'em by their own words," Hood said, according to the report.
Hood blamed Republicans for killing the bill in February. It died in the House of Representatives Judiciary A Committee, which has more Democratic members than Republican.
"How can these lawmakers criticize the handling of public corruption cases when they refuse to provide the tools necessary to prosecute these cases? In light of the current bribery cases being prosecuted by my colleagues at the federal level, it is important to note the investigatory methods used to bring those cases," Hood said.
Opponents of the bill said it gave Hood too much power.
Hood has drawn criticism since the November indictment of famed trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, a large campaign contributor whose relationship with Hood was described as "remarkably close" by federal prosecutors in Scruggs' dismissed contempt case.
Editorials called for Hood's resignation because the second-term Democrat would not file state charges against Scruggs, any of his co-conspirators or attorney Joey Langston. Langston pleaded guilty to a judicial bribery scheme involving Scruggs in Hinds County.
Both Scruggs and Langston have donated directly to Hood's campaigns and, combined, gave $400,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association. The DAGA gave the same amount to Hood.
Because Langston was awarded state contracts by Hood to sue prescription drug-maker Eli Lilly and MCI, Hood said he could not prosecute him.
"Due to Mr. Langston's past representation of this office, it could create an appearance of impropriety for our office to participate in a potential state prosecution of this case. It will be up to the appropriate District Attorney(s) to handle any potential state case(s). The resources of my office will be available to them."
Langston said he offered political sway that could lead to a federal judgeship for Hinds Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter when he represented Scruggs in a dispute over asbestos fees.
Scruggs and attorney Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that they conspired to bribe Lafayette Circuit Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000 in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees from Hurricane Katrina settlements.
Attorney Timothy Balducci, formerly of Langston's firm, also pleaded guilty to the scheme and added that he and business partner Steven Patterson, a former state Auditor who pleaded guilty too, were offered $500,000 by Scruggs if they could convince Hood not to criminally indict State Farm Insurance Cos. over its handling of post-Katrina claims.
Wiretaps of conversations initiated by Balducci gave federal prosecutors some of their best evidence against Scruggs.