JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The legality of contracts awarded to private attorneys by the Mississippi Attorney General's Office was up for debate at the state Supreme Court Wednesday.

The court heard oral arguments in a case involving $14 million paid to attorneys who represented the State in a $100 settlement with MCI, which was formerly known as Worldcom before bankruptcy proceedings. Former state Auditor Phil Bryant initiated the lawsuit, and successor Stacey Pickering has pursued it since.

Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd had upheld the $14 million that attorneys made in a Febryary 2010 decision.

Bryant filed suit against Joey Langston's firm in 2007, arguing that the state Legislature needed to approve any usage of the $100 million in settlement funds, including attorneys fees.

Langston was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty in Jan. 2008 to a charge that he attempted to bribe former Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby Delaughter with consideration for a job as a federal judge.

The attempt, Langston says, happened when he represented plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs in a dispute over attorneys fees earned in asbestos settlements. Timothy Balducci also represented Scruggs in the case and represented the State in the MCI case.

Pickering said the attorneys in the MCI case were paid about $2,000 per hour, based on the information he could gather. Pickering said state Attorney General Jim Hood did not comply with a request for a complete listing of hours and work performed.

Hood refused to defend the Auditor's office in the dispute with Langston and Balducci.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

More News