Hood wanted advice from Scruggs on WSJ op-ed

John O'Brien Jul. 28, 2010, 3:30pm


JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Recently released documents show that Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood asked for the advice of plaintiffs attorneys who later became felons when crafting a rebuttal to a 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial.

In March 2007, a WSJ column titled "Mississippi Justice" blasted Hood for his relationship with the now-imprisoned plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs during Hurricane Katrina litigation. Scruggs' public relations firm has released more than 400 pages of communications between Scruggs' camp and the firm.

The Mississippi political Web site Y'all Politics has those documents.

"Friends," Hood wrote to a group of PR specialists and attorneys in 2007, "Please e-mail 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 venting draft."

The e-mail was sent to, among others, Scruggs, his son and law partner Zach, attorney Joey Langston, attorney Don Barrett and former Attorney General Mike Moore.

Hood had written that the WSJ's "entire article is based upon a false premise, which your biased editors failed to recognize."

The WSJ had another editorial Wednesday.

It wasn't just the WSJ that questioned the relationship between Scruggs and Hood. Scruggs had formed a group of lawyers to handle Hurricane Katrina lawsuits, and Hood had sued five insurance companies over their handling of Katrina claims.

Federal prosecutors called it a "remarkably close relationship" between Hood and Scruggs.

Scruggs received documents from former employees at E.A. Renfroe, a claims-adjusting company working with State Farm. The sisters who obtained them, Kerri Rigsby and Cori Rigsby Moran, said they had uncovered evidence that the company was unfairly handling post-Katrina claims.

After an injunction telling him not to do so, Scruggs delivered those documents to Hood instead of to the attorneys of E.A. Renfroe. Scruggs said he was allowed to because Hood is a law-enforcement official.

More than 600 cases had been settled early in 2007, earning the Scruggs Katrina Group $26.5 million in attorneys fees. At the same time, Hood dropped a criminal investigation of State Farm Insurance Cos.

An FBI report released in 2008 said Scruggs had offered $500,000 to two of his co-conspirators in a judicial bribery scheme to attempt to convince Hood not to indict State Farm on criminal charges regarding Hurricane Katrina claims because Scruggs feared it would put an end to a possible settlement with his Scruggs Katrina Group.

"(State Farm) was not going to settle the civil cases with the (Scruggs Law Firm), if the company was going to be indicted by the Attorney General's Office," FBI agent William Delaney wrote.

Scruggs and Langston were heavy campaign contributors of Hood's. Barrett was a member of the SKG.

Scruggs is currently incarcerated after pleading guilty to a pair of judicial bribery schemes in 2008 and 2009. The first involved attorneys fees from Katrina litigation, as he offered $50,000 to Judge Henry Lackey with the hope of receiving a favorable ruling. Lackey reported the overture to the FBI and wore a wire during a conversation with middleman Timothy Balducci.

Balducci, Zach Scruggs and Sidney Backstrom also ended up pleading guilty, as did former state Auditor Steven Patterson. Patterson was Balducci's business partner. Balducci wore a wire to gather evidence on Scruggs' firm.

The other bribery scheme involved a dispute over fees from asbestos suits. It landed Langston and Judge Bobby DeLaughter in jail.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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