JACKSON, Miss. - On Nov. 6, state Attorney General Jim Hood was the most popular man in Mississippi.
The Democrat won re-election that day over Al Hopkins, earning 60 percent of the vote while receiving the most votes of any candidate running for a statewide office. More than 440,000 Mississippians wanted Hood back for a second term, and he became the only Democrat to win in any of the eight statewide races.
More than two months later, however, the media seems fed up with his apparent unwillingness to prosecute those charged by the federal government in two separate alleged judicial bribery schemes that took place in state courts.
Two attorneys (Joey Langston and Timothy Balducci) who have pleaded guilty were both campaign contributors to Hood and were appointed by him to perform work on behalf of the State. Another campaign donor was famed trial lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs. He maintains his innocence.
"Current Mississippi Attorney Jim Hood -- you may have heard of him despite his best imitation of a church mouse in all of this -- has an obligation to the taxpayers of this state to bust up this chummy atmosphere where the best legal minds are manipulating the law to get rich at our expense," said a recent editorial in the Scott County Times, a weekly newspaper based in Forest.
"It's time for Jim Hood to quit hiding in the walls of the sanctuary and walk boldly to the pulpit and cast down these judicial demons. He simply has to get to work fixing this beast. If we can't trust our judicial system, our democracy is broken."
The title of the editorial, "Mr. Hood: Don't Leave Justice To The Feds," could double as the headline for another found in the Sun-Herald of Biloxi.
"Attorney General Hood's continuing silence is particularly questionable," that piece says. We would expect him and local district attorneys to be engaged in the pursuit of any and all crimes that subvert our justice system and that he and they would not rest until all guilt is exposed and all guilty parties are brought to justice."
Langston and Balducci represented the State in its suit against MCI that resulted in a $100 million settlement and $14 million more in attorneys fees. The Langston Law Firm was also awarded a state contract to sue Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the anti-psychotic prescription drug Zyprexa.
After Langston pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby DeLaughter with a job as a federal judge, Hood pulled Langston from the Eli Lilly suit but said he would not bring state charges against him.
"Since the matter is being handled by the federal government, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further until all the facts are known," Hood said.
"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."
Hood has not spoken publicly about Scruggs, the powerful trial lawyer who gained nationwide fame when he took on tobacco companies on behalf of Mississippi.
Scruggs is alleged to have offered Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey $40,000 for a favorable ruling in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned in a 640-case settlement with State Farm Insurance Cos. after Hurricane Katrina.
In Scruggs' criminal contempt case in Alabama, federal prosecutors wrote that there exists "a remarkably close relationship" between Hood and Scruggs, and that Scruggs donated $44,000 to Hood.
Last year, Hopkins showed on his campaign site that The Langston Law Firm had donated $112,214.59 to Hood's two campaigns.
Hopkins recently joined those criticizing Hood, telling Sid Salter of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, "Before the Mississippi Legislature spends its valuable time on new legislation, let me resuggest something I said to you and your Editorial Board recently.
"It is, of course, a novel idea, and untested in Mississippi for some years, but one might correct the situation by having an attorney general that is honest to his oath of office and follows the law that is in place. Why change a law before it has been used?"