I continue on vacation through next Wednesday, but will post this week when I can. For now, just a short post on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial yesterday (subscription only). The editorial posits an unholy alliance between state law enforcement officials and certain members of the plaintiff’s bar:
This Mississippi Tort Inc. enterprise began in the 1990s, when former Attorney General Mike Moore sued tobacco companies and contracted out the lawsuit to his old law school buddy, Mr. Scruggs. Their nicknames were Scro and Mo. Mr. Scruggs’s firm is estimated to have earned nearly $1 billion in fees; Mr. Moore became a movie hero ("The Insider").
It is a seductive business model, and these days a crew of tort kingpins known as the Pascagoula Mafia show up in nearly every state lawsuit. Mr. Hood made trial lawyer Joey Langston rich by throwing him the state’s case against MCI/WorldCom. Mr. Hood also hired Mr. Langston’s firm — where Mr. Balducci was a partner — to pursue Eli Lilly. It also happens that Mr. Langston is one of Mr. Hood’s major campaign contributors.
When Mr. Hood sued State Farm, Mr. Scruggs supplied him with key documents. Former AG Moore, now a trial lawyer himself, worked both with Mr. Hood on his state insurance litigation and with Mr. Scruggs in private Katrina suits. Mr. Balducci, who left the Langston firm to set up his own practice, was also working with Mr. Scruggs on Katrina litigation. And did we mention who is Mr. Scruggs’s personal criminal attorney? Mr. Langston.
These relationships are now starting to haunt the participants. Mr. Hood faced a tough re-election this fall after his Republican opponent highlighted Mr. Hood’s backroom relations with the trial bar. State Auditor Phil Bryant this summer sent Mr. Hood a letter demanding his office commence proceedings to recover the $14 million paid to Mr. Langston and colleagues in the MCI/WorldCom case, saying that, under Mississippi law, the money paid in fees to Mr. Langston rightfully belonged to the state.
Mr. Hood has also been countersued by State Farm, in a detailed complaint alleging that he had an ethically conflicted relationship with Mr. Scruggs throughout the Katrina litigation. Mr. Scruggs gave Mr. Hood documents that had been purloined by two former State Farm contractors, and Mr. Hood helped Mr. Scruggs keep those documents away from a federal court. Mr. Scruggs is also — you had already guessed this — one of Mr. Hood’s major campaign contributors.
It’s not only the Wall Street Journal that thinks this way. I’ve heard similar sentiments from plaintiff’s attorneys in Mississippi outside the Hood-Moore-Scruggs-Langston circle. Speaking of Hood, he got a lucky break in that the Scruggs indictment didn’t happen until after he was re-elected. Any scrutiny that Hood is now receiving, he is in a much better position to withstand it as the state’s AG than as a private citizen. Hood himself must believe he is being scrutinized — how else to account for his month-long case of laryngitis?