JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A Washington, D.C.-based tort reform group recently wrote Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood about a bill that would change the way the State hires private attorneys to represent it.
House Bill 211 would allow other state agencies to hire private attorneys instead of solely relying on Hood's office to represent their interests, as well as requiring attorneys who bill the state for more than $100,000 to have those amounts published.
Darren McKinney, the director of communications for the American Tort Reform Association, wrote Hood on Thursday.
"The Sunshine Bill is not sinister," McKinney said in response to Hood's objection to the bill.
"By clearly setting conditions to be met before state officials can enter into contingency fee contracts for legal services, and by requiring public disclosure of such legal contracts and fees, the bill would promote greater accountability and transparency."
The bill also requires outside counsel to keep detailed records of the time spent working on the case and expense records.
Hood authored an editorial denouncing the bill that was published Monday in the Hattiesburg American. Friday on Twitter, he posted ATRA's letter to him and wrote, "Do we really want Washington outsiders telling Mississippi how to run your Attorney General's office?"
In his opinion piece, Hood wrote the bill is unconstitutional and short-sighted, and that the current system works. Mississippi Republicans argue the opposite, because the State was unable to join the multistate challenge of federal health care reform because Hood's office did not want to.
"(I)f you wish to argue that you're the only state official qualified to hire private sector legal help, and that you're the only one who truly cares about the welfare of fellow Mississippians, then by all means make that case on the merits to the extent possible," McKinney wrote.
Hood, the only Democrat holding a statewide office in Mississippi, has been criticized in the past over his practice of awarding no-bid contracts to political donors.
He gave Texas firm Bailey Perrin Bailey a lawsuit over Eli Lilly's prescription antipsychotic drug Zyprexa after firm head Kenneth Bailey gave him $75,000 for his campaign fund.
Fired from that case was Joey Langston, who pleaded guilty in a judicial bribery case involving famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs. Langston previously worked on Mississippi's case against MCI, earning a $100 million settlement that produced $14 million in attorneys fees that his firm split with another firm.
Langston has given Hood more than $100,000 through the years. Hood also gave five lawsuits to Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman, while attorneys from the firm have given $25,000 to Hood's campaign.
The sunshine bill has passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.