When Jim Hood was a little boy, he didn’t dream of growing up to hold the position of being the state’s top lawyer, the attorney general. He still didn’t dream of that after graduating from law school. That’s because as a kid, he didn’t have a very good impression of what it meant to be a law enforcement prosecutor.
“My father was a county prosecutor in Chickasaw County back in the days when there was only one district attorney and no assistants,” Hood recalls. “Back then county attorneys were the heavy lifters, doing what assistant DAs do now. It was a dry county, and we had a lot of bootleggers back then. My dad was trying to do the right thing prosecuting those cases.
“We had to leave our home many evenings because of threats against our family. Then on April 20, 1973, our home burned. After our home burned, we lived in a trailer with round-the-clock protection. After that experience, I never wanted to get in politics, much less be a prosecutor. No, I never intended to be sitting behind this desk.”
It wasn’t just the chill of having the life of his family threatened that made an impact, nor seeing their home go up in flames. It also appeared to “Little Jim,” as he was known when growing up, that few people valued his dad’s work.
“It didn’t seem to me back then that many people were patting my dad on the back, but I respected him for what he did,” Hood said.
As a young man, Hood planned to work as an oil and gas industry attorney.
In high school his father taught him how to check land titles, and that work helped him pay for law school. Then in his last year of law school, he did an internship in the criminal division of the Attorney General’s Office that got him back interested in prosecutions and law enforcement.
On the campaign trail
Earlier, Hood had gotten to know former AG Mike Moore on the campaign trail, and liked what he saw.
“He was for clean government and fairness,” Hood said. “I got out and helped him campaign, but I was still planning to do oil and gas work. After the fall semester of 1988, I finished law school and went back to oil and gas, which was booming again.”
Hood hadn’t intended to be a courtroom lawyer. But after working in the criminal division of the AG’s office, he felt great satisfaction doing work that really helps people. So after clerking for the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1989, he went back to the AG’s office to run the drug enforcement unit. He worked there for three years, first in drug enforcement and then in environmental prosecutions.
Then in 1995, the DA of his home circuit court district wasn’t running for re-election. Hood ran and won office serving as the DA for seven northern Mississippi counties, with Oxford as the main office. After two terms, Moore made his surprise announcement that he wasn’t running for re-election. Hood quickly changed from running for re-election as DA to running for AG.
Moore and Hood were racquetball buddies, so Hood got an inside look at what the office was like.
“I knew what I was getting into,” Hood said. “I enjoy it. But when I left to become a DA, I had no children. When I came back to Jackson, I had three children. That has been the most difficult part, finding enough time to spend with my family.”
The part of the job he most dislikes is “dealing with some of petty partisanship that occurs in our government these days. I still am an idealist in that I believe that the law and our courts are institutions that deserve respect, and that the law is not like political policy. It doesn’t bend and change very easily. There is some purity in the law. So when you issue an opinion, or you take a position in a lawsuit, and people accuse you of politics, it is frustrating when you are just trying to do the right thing.”
Keeping it in perspective
Hood, 42, said he tries to keep life in perspective. He knows in 20 years he won’t be AG, and all he will have is a handful of close friends and his family.
“So my decisions are made not on what is best now, but in 20 years,” Hood said. “I don’t want to have any regrets. Life has too many worries. When I lay my head on the pillow at night, I want to make sure I did what was right.”
He particularly enjoys working in areas such as victim compensation and consumer protection. One of his accomplished goals was getting the victim compensation program transferred to his office from the Department of Finance and Administration. That program works to help the crime victims. For example, if the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals hands down a decision in a case involving a violent crime, the AG’s office makes sure crime victims are notified before it hits the evening news.
One of his primary efforts regarding the business community is a booklet on workplace violence that will soon been distributed throughout the state. As DA, Hood tried a case in New Albany where a worker killed two people at the workplace. He learned then about risk assessments for workplace violence, and found that there are clear warning signs.
The booklet will help businesses assess what kind of behavior to watch out for, and set up a protocol of how to respond if a worker shows signs of harming himself or others. The booklet discusses how incidents should be reported, and the importance of contacting a trained police officer who can come out to intervene.
A similar manual is also being published for schools.
“After Columbine and many of the workplace shootings, we put on training that told police what to do after a shooting,” Hood said. “Now, we are trying to go with prevention, helping people go in on the front end to isolate and prevent violence.”
Another initiative important to the business community is that last year the Legislature, at the urging of the AG’s office, passed an identity theft statute increasing the penalties to a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 15 years. Identify theft is becoming an increasingly serious problem in casinos and businesses like banks.
“Banks are taking a hit,” Hood said. “The business community as a whole is getting a lot of forged checks. So we have set up an identity theft unit in our consumer protection division. Another area where we want to serve the community is trying to recoup money that people or companies have lost to con artists.”
One of the most vital things the AG’s office does is issue opinions on the law in Mississippi. Opinions are frequently requested from other government entities on the state and local level.
“Opinions go out here every day that have an impact on how government operates,” Hood said. “Mike had the rule of a turnaround of 30 days, and we have the same rule.”
Hood oversees a staff of 125 attorneys and a total staff of 225. Many attorneys have been around for a long time.
“There is a depth of knowledge here that is critical,” Hood said. “One person has been here 30 years. You want those gray hairs around because it gives you a balance of where you have been in history. It gives you a good perspective of how urgent matters are now, and if they have come up before. History does repeat itself.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.