Miss. Senate approves 'Sunshine' bill

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 15, 2012


JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The Mississippi Senate on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that would limit Attorney General Jim Hood's power.

Senators voted 32-17 for Senate Bill 2084, which would determine the percentage of a verdict outside lawyers could earn.

Under the bill, the attorney general would have to appoint outside lawyers if he decided not to represent an agency.

SB 2084 also creates a three-person panel called the Outside Counsel Oversight Commission. The commission includes the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, and would deal with any related disputes.

The House passed its own Sunshine Act last month.

House Bill 211 allows state officials, agencies, boards, commissions, departments or institutions to hire their own outside attorneys over the state's top lawyer.

The measure also requires the attorney general or any other state official make public contracts with outside lawyers.

Under HB 211, all outside legal contracts must be filed with a state board and any contracts for more than $100,000 must be approved by that board.

Hood -- the only Democrat to hold a statewide elected office -- is already putting contracts worth more than $100,000 online, voluntarily.

The attorney general has argued that the House bill violates the Mississippi Constitution, which gives him the sole authority to speak in court with one voice on behalf of the State.

And he's not the only one to rail against the measure.

Former Mississippi Attorney General and state Supreme Court Justice Edwin Pittman has said he also is concerned about the bill.

Pittman, a Democrat like Hood, served as attorney general from 1984 to 1988. In January 1989, he moved to the state Supreme Court. He became chief justice in January 2001, and later stepped down in March 2004.

Like Hood, Pittman argues that the House bill is unconstitutional and will end up costing taxpayers.

And it could end up creating more problems for the state, he says.

"You could have 25 agencies, with 25 lawyers, with 25 different views of what the law is," Pittman wrote in a letter last month to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Briggs Hopson, chairman of the state's Senate Judiciary Committee.

But sponsors of both measures argue that the bills would prevent Hood, or any other attorney general, from dictating the public policy of the state and would stop any possible political favoritism in hiring of outside lawyers.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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