JACKSON, Miss. - Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says the only connection between his case against State Farm and the indictment of prominent trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs is a fictional one.
"The federal indictment has absolutely nothing to do with our case," said Hood, who sued five insurance companies for allegedly misrepresenting the amount of damage done by wind (covered by the policies) and water (covered by a federal program) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"The only link here is the one being made by the media."
Scruggs was indicted on federal charges that he and four others attempted to bribe a state judge in an attorneys fees dispute. His Scruggs Law Firm disagreed with Jones and Funderburg over how to split $26.5 million that was earned in a partial settlement of Hood's case in January.
In the settlement, 640 suits were settled immediately, while a process for the settling of the potential claims of some 35,000 policyholders was created. The latter was rejected by a federal judge, State Farm came up with another process with former Insurance Commissioner George Dale, and Hood sued State Farm for not doing what it took to make the settlement work.
Had that settlement been approved, Scruggs' firm stood to possibly make another $20 million. State Farm has since sued Hood, claiming the Attorney General has been unfairly threatening the reopening of a criminal investigation to force a civil settlement.
Scruggs recently decided his firm would stop representing Katrina claims, and he faces up to 75 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. Timothy Balducci, one of his alleged co-conspirators who has represented the State as a special assistant attorney general appointed by Hood, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal officials, and a trial is scheduled for Jan. 22.
Hood had said little more than "no comment" since Scruggs, who has contributed $44,000 to Hood's campaigns, was indicted. Scruggs' firm also made $1.4 billion when it represented the State against tobacco companies in the 1990s, having been appointed by then-Attorney General Mike Moore.
"I have repeatedly said that it would be improper to comment on a case when I do not have all the facts," Hood said. "It would be equally inappropriate to comment on any litigation that is pending."
The Mississippi political site Y'all Politics wondered last week if Hood's Public Integrity Division would be filing state charges against Scruggs, considering it was an elected state official whom Scruggs is alleged to have attempted to bribe.
"If I am asked to cooperate with any federal investigation, I will do so," Hood said. "If anyone is caught breaking the law, whatever the crime, they need to face the consequences."