JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - It's not the argument he's making, but it's something worth noting to Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering.
The best he can figure, the attorneys with whom he is currently in a legal dispute were paid more than $2,000 per hour of work they performed on behalf of the State of Mississippi. It's only an estimate, though, because Attorney General Jim Hood has not complied with Pickering's request for more information.
Attorneys Joey Langston and Timothy Balducci, now admitted felons, were hired by Hood to sue Worldcom over back taxes. The company paid a $100 million settlement and $14 million in attorneys fees in 2005.
"Off the top of my head, looking at the billable hours they did turn in, it was about $2,000 an hour for the actual work they performed," Pickering said.
"You gotta give (credit) to them," Pickering added, laughing.
Pickering's case doesn't argue that the attorneys fees were excessive. He says it is up to the Legislature to appropriate settlement funds, not a judge who approves a settlement.
"That's not our argument. Is it an issue? Yes," Pickering said.
Based on what little information he received, Pickering said he arrived at his estimate by adding up 40-hour weeks The Langston Law Firm worked between the time it signed the contract with the State and the time the contract was signed.
Pickering, a Republican, said he asked Hood for a complete listing of Langston's work last fall but did not receive it.
Legal Newsline submitted a request for information on any filings Langston's firm submitted in the multi-creditor litigation on June 3 but never received a response.
Langston, a heavy campaign contributor of Hood's, was also given a state contract to pursue a case against pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly but was fired after pleading guilty in January to attempting to bribe a state judge.
Balducci also contributed to Hood and pleaded guilty last year to attempting to bribe a state judge in famed plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs' quarrel with another firm over attorneys fees.
Langston's firm has directly given more than $100,000 to Hood's two campaigns, according to Al Hopkins, whom Hood defeated in last year's election. The Mississippians for Economic Progress said earlier this year that Langston also gave $100,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association in 2003.
The next day, the Democratic Attorneys General Association gave $150,000 to Hood's campaign.
In 2007, the MFEP says, according to IRS reports, DAGA gave contributions of $150,000 and $250,000 to Hood. Langston had given $100,000 to the association, and Scruggs had given $300,000.
Other law firms given state contracts by Hood, who offered no comment in response to Pickering's claims, gave a total of $220,000, according to Hopkins.
Hood refused to defend the Auditor's office in the dispute with Langston and Balducci. He also did not file state charges against them or Scruggs in their federal bribery scandals, leaving it to the state's district attorneys.
Hood said prosecuting them would be like prosecuting a family member.
"We all know the history of Langston and Balducci," Pickering said. "They're large contributors and donors to Attorney General Hood."
"That really did not come as a surprise to anyone in Mississippi... It's been par for the course, unfortunately. In this case, the Attorney General disagrees with our position -- naturally -- since it's a contract he entered into on behalf of the State with the Langston firm."
By not representing the Auditor's office, Hood forced Pickering and former Auditor Phil Bryant to hire outside counsel. They chose Harris, Jernigan & Geno or Ridgeland for the state case, and Otterbourg, Steindler, Houston & Rosen of New York for the federal case.
Langston and Balducci argue the dispute belongs in federal court because it deals with Worldcom's federal bankruptcy proceedings and that the Auditor's office took too long to file. Pickering believes the issue involves only state law, a stance with which two federal judges have agreed.
The tab for the lawyers hired by the Auditor's office is approaching $200,000. Pickering said it is strictly an hourly payment agreement.
"It is a straight contract, as approved by a contract review board," Pickering said.
The federal issue was raised by Langston's firm, Pickering said.
He said someone in Hood's office told the firm what the Auditor's office was planning in state court, and the Langston firm quickly filed for an injunction in federal court.
Langston's complaint against Bryant, calling him a "political opportunist," initiated the federal proceedings.
"Bryant, through the state and national publicity surrounding the settlement, had actual notice of the settlement and could have objected to its approval by this court. He did not," Langston's complaint says.
"Instead, he has waited until a few short weeks prior to the general election for the Lieutenant Governor post he so desperately desires to stage a transparently political and legally devoid attack on attorney fees. This Court should not fall prey to his antics."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.