State Auditor Stacey Pickering filed a motion for summary judgment in Hinds County Circuit Court last Tuesday asking Judge Winston Kidd to determine if the $14 million paid to former Booneville plaintiffs’ lawyer Joey Langston in the MCI settlement case was in compliance with state law.
Langston was one of six defendants indicted in the judicial bribery conspiracy last year, along with Richard “Dickie” Scruggs. All have pleaded guilty. Three of the men — Scruggs, his son, Zach, and law partner Sidney Backstrom — pleaded guilty. Dickie Scruggs and Backstrom have already reported to federal prison. Zach Scruggs reports August 15.
Attorney General Jim Hood recruited Langston to assist in the state’s lawsuit against MCI for alleged improper billing practices. The state received $100 million in the settlement, plus an additional $14 million that went to The Langston Law Firm in Booneville.
The crux of Pickering’s argument is that, for the $14 million of the settlement to be paid Langston, there would have had to be legislative approval, since the money was considered public funds.
“The agreement between Joey Langston, Attorney General Jim Hood and the judge in the original settlement acted outside the law when entering into a contract to pay Langston for his services without that money being appropriated through the Legislature,” Pickering said in a news release.
Prior to Pickering’s filing in Hinds County, a federal judge in New York and another in Mississippi had ruled that the matter should be heard in state court.
Pickering said Kidd is expected to make a ruling this fall.
“The matter has been ruled on in two federal courts, and the courts have ruled favorably to the State Auditor and the State of Mississippi,” Pickering said. “Summary judgment would allow this case to move forward expeditiously and save the taxpayer’s money.”
Langston was one of Hood’s largest campaign contributors in his each of his elections.
“All legal fees were paid directly by MCI, separate and above the $100 million we collected for the state,” Hood said Wednesday in a statement. “Every aspect of the MCI case was handled in accordance with Mississippi law in a court of law before a sitting federal judge. If Mr. Pickering is not careful, he could very well end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars during a time when we can least afford it.”
Langston and Scruggs were to of Mississippi’s most prominent and wealthiest plaintiffs’ attorneys, each having made fortunes from tobacco and asbestos litigation. Their work was one of the reasons the business community clamored hard for tort reform, which eventually passed after a marathon special legislative session in 2004.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .