Hood a newsmaker once again

By John O'Brien | Feb 25, 2008


JACKSON, Miss. - Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said last week that prosecuting campaign contributors involved in a pair of alleged judicial bribery schemes would hit a little too close to home.

His comment to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger might have been big news in any other week, but it was just one of the headlines made by Hood last week.

He continued to bicker with State Farm Insurance Cos., criticized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and promised to make good on a donation to the Boys and Girls Club of money paid by State Farm.

A lot of the news came from an interview with the Clarion-Ledger's editorial board, which asked him why he has not prosecuted Richard "Dickie" Scruggs (a contributor facing federal charges of judicial bribery) or Joey Langston (a contributor who pleaded guilty to judicial bribery).

"It would be like prosecuting a relative," he told the board.

Hood said the local district attorney could pursue state charges if he wanted to. Langston and Scruggs are huge contributors to the Democratic Attorneys General of America, giving $440,000 to the organization. The DAGA gave Hood $440,000.

To the board, he said political action committees funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which owns Legal Newsline, are Republican "money-laundering" operations.

Hood also told the board it should hire a Democratic columnist to counter the Republican views of Sid Salter, the paper's Perspective Editor.

Hood had tried his hand at writing earlier in the week with a column that addressed what he called his "enemies."

"(T)hose who are yelling the loudest are those who are squealing the most - the big corporations, the insurance companies, the losers of a hard-fought political campaign," Hood wrote. "And they will continue to squeal because, at the end of the day, they understand that the office of attorney general will never stop its fight to protect the citizens of Mississippi.

"They know that this office will never side with anyone over the interests of the hardworking families of our state."

The editorial went on to bash State Farm, the company he has locked horns with in his lawsuit over five companies' post-Hurricane Katrina claims-handling practices.

Recently, a federal judge wrote that State Farm's lawsuit against Hood, which alleged Hood threatened the reopening of a settled criminal investigation in order to force civil settlements, was settled and dismissed the case.

Hood wrote that the case was "thrown out," not settled. The judge in the case had ruled that a Jan. 23, 2007, agreement not to pursue criminal charges was enforceable.

"State Farm is satisfied with the outcome of the proceedings in Natchez and was happy to dismiss our lawsuit," State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said.

A State Farm lawyer then accidentally sent a reply of an e-mail from Hood's office to members of the press.

"The only reason it is referred to as such is because the details of the attorney general's criminal investigation needed to be protected," Hood's e-mail said. "The case was dismissed because the allegations were false."

In response to the e-mail, State Farm attorney Sheila L. Birnbaum, according to The Associated Press, wrote, "This is so over the top. Can we ask that he be held in contempt of court for misrepresenting a settlement agreement and order of the court?"

Birnbaum thought she was sending the e-mail to only State Farm attorneys.

Lastly, Boys and Girls Clubs located in Mississippi asked Hood where the $800,000 donation he promised is. The money is supposed to come from the $5 million payment made by State Farm last January when it settled criminal allegations.

Hood's office said the clubs will receive the money, appropriated by the state's Legislature, shortly.

"We are currently in the process of determining the allocations to be made to each club," Hood's spokesperson told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. "The clubs can definitely count on the money in the very near future."

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