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Hood's site making transition

By John O'Brien | Dec 12, 2007


JACKSON, Miss. - After its redesign, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's website currently has a much different look -- both in content and layout.

Unveiled this week, Hood's new site is temporarily offering little information regarding his case against State Farm Insurance Cos. and is missing almost every press release issued in 2004-06.

In the State Farm case, Hood alleges the company and four others misrepresented the amount of damage done during 2005's Hurricane Katrina to the homes of policyholders by wind (covered by the policy) and water (covered by a federal flood program).

Formerly, browsers on his site could go back through the entire history of his State Farm-related press releases, as seen in this cached page from Dec. 6.

On it, several press releases about the State Farm suit can be found. On his new site, a search for "State Farm" returns only two results -- a release from February about Hood's Congressional report on the company and a page titled "Latest News Regarding the State Farm Class Action Lawsuit TK."

The page is currently blank, but spokesperson Jan Schaefer said it will feature "just the most recent" news about the State Farm case.

"All of them will be returned to the site," Schaefer added. "(The IT person) is working most recent, backwards. All will be under press releases, but I think only the most recent will be under the 'latest news on State Farm' link."

Schaefer even offered to locate any old press release not found on the site.

"Only one IT person is assigned to it and is swamped making all the updates from the old site to the new site," she said. "She assures me she is working hard on it."

And there were plenty of press releases in the State Farm saga. Most recently, the company sued Hood in November, claiming he was unfairly using the threat of reopening a criminal investigation to force a civil settlement.

That settlement, involving potentially 35,000 policyholders, was reached earlier this year, but a federal judge did not approve of it. The proposed settlement set up an arbitration process for policyholders who had not sued but still could. Its estimated cost for State Farm was $500 million.

After it was denied, Hood sued State Farm for a bad faith breach of the agreement -- "Once they reach an agreement with the State, they have a duty to follow through," Hood said at a press conference.

"It's tough to sue somebody for breach of contract when there's a reason that prevented them from performing the agreement," said David Rossmiller, an insurance attorney at Dunn Carney in Portland, Ore., who has closely followed the developments.

"In this case, the reason is about as good as it gets -- a federal judge stopped State Farm from performing the agreement. That's an impossibility defense... I think that's the defense State Farm will use, and it is a hard thing to get around."

Three trial lawyers hired by Hood to represent the State were contributors to Hood's campaign in 2003.

Indicted trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs has also given money to Hood. He was recently charged with attempting to bribe a state judge in an attorneys fees dispute, and Hood has refused to comment on the situation because it has nothing to do with his State Farm case.

The $26.5 million in question was earned in the only part of Hood's settlement with State Farm that was approved, providing $80 million to policyholders and $5 million in investigative costs to Hood's office.

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