JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge has decided that four media outlets should be allowed to seek the unsealing of the settlement in State Farm Insurance's lawsuit against Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
U.S. District Judge David Bramlette made the ruling Wednesday, granting intervenor status to Jackson New Media, WLBT, WDAM and WLOX. Jackson New Media owns the political Web site Y'All Politics.
The intervenors have 30 days from the issuance of the ruling to submit their motion to unseal.
"This group of companies will be making the appropriate motions for these records very soon," said Alan Lange, editor of Y'All Politics.
"It's our hope that none of the parties in the case will seek to unnecessarily obstruct or object to the requests before the Court so that Mississippians can be provided the information for themselves in a timely manner."
In objecting to the motions to intervene, Hood argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has already concluded that a judge can't grant a motion to intervene in a case that is over.
The lawsuit alleged Hood was unfairly threatening the company with criminal charges to force it to settle the civil suit filed by Hood weeks after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Shortly after Hood was forced to take the stand in federal court in Hattiesburg, the two sides reached a confidential settlement in Feb. 2007.
Hood had sued State Farm and four other insurance companies weeks after Katrina, claiming that they intentionally misrepresented to policyholders the amount of damage done by wind (covered by their policies) and water (covered by a federal program).
A proposed settlement with State Farm had the potential to affect more than 35,000 policyholders, but a federal judge did not approve of it for procedural reasons. A separate successful settlement of 640 claims was coupled with a $5 million payment to Hood with the agreement his criminal investigation would cease, the company said.
Hood eventually sued State Farm again for not making the rejected settlement work. State Farm claimed he threatened it with the prospect of another criminal investigation.
The two sides disagreed heavily over the circumstances of the settlement. Hood wrote in a column that "allegations lodged against me by this insurer were shown to be false," while his press secretary wrote the only reason the outcome was referred to as a "settlement" is because "the details of the Attorney General's criminal investigation needed to be protected. The case was dismissed because the allegations were false."
Sheila Birnbaum, a State Farm attorney, accidentally sent an e-mail to members of the press that said, "This is so over the top. Can we ask that (Hood) be held in contempt of court for misrepresenting a settlement agreement and order of the court?"
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.