Miss. auditor weighing appeal in attorneys fees case
JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering is determing whether he should appeal a court ruling that will allow a pair of admitted felons to keep the millions of dollars they made representing the State.
Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd upheld the $14 million that attorneys made in 2005 in a case concerning the bankruptcy of Worldcom, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reported. Two of those attorneys, Timothy Balducci and Joey Langston, have pleaded guilty to judicial bribery schemes and are currently incarcerated.
Pickering said he always anticipated the matter would ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.
"There is clear precedent on the need to get legislative appropriation for compensation to special assistants to the attorney general, which was not done in the Langston matter," Pickering said.
Then-Auditor Phil Bryant filed suit against Langston's firm in 2007, arguing that the state Legislature needed to approve any usage of the $100 million in settlement funds, including attorneys fees.
Pickering continued with the suit after Bryant became Lieutenant Governor. Langston argued that Bryant's reason for filing the suit in the middle of his campaign was political.
The matter had been in federal court, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided it involved issues of state law.
"Since the subject attorney's fees were not paid by the state and did not come out of any state funds, this Court finds that there is absolutely nothing improper or illegal about MCI's payment of attorney's fees to the Langston Law Firm," Kidd wrote, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Langston was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty in Jan. 2008 to a charge that he attempted to bribe Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby Delaughter with consideration for a job as a federal judge.
The attempt, Langston says, happened when he represented disgraced plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs in a dispute over attorneys fees earned in asbestos settlements. Balducci also represented Scruggs in the case.
DeLaughter eventually did not agree with a special master's recommendation that Scruggs pay his former partner $15 million and ruled Scruggs only owed $1.5 million. DeLaughter pleaded guilty to misleading investigators and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Balducci pleaded guilty in Sept. 2007 to a separate alleged judicial bribery scheme. Scruggs was in a dispute over more than $26 million in fees from Hurricane Katrina cases and was sentenced to five years in prison for admitting to attempting to bribe Lafayettte Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.
Balducci cooperated with the FBI, gathering evidence against Scruggs and two other members of his firm. Balducci received a two-year prison sentence.
Langston, a heavy campaign contributor of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's, was also given a state contract to pursue a case against pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly but was fired after pleading guilty.
Pickering said the attorneys in the Worldcom case were paid about $2,000 per hour, based on the information he could gather. Pickering said Hood did not comply with a request for a complete listing of hours and work performed.
Hood refused to defend the Auditor's office in the dispute with Langston and Balducci.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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