JACKSON — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood confirmed yesterday to The Associated Press that he has hired former Attorney General Mike Moore and others to handle the state’s claims against BP PLC stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Hood hired fellow Democrat Moore, plus former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson and a forensic accounting firm to handle the state’s interests. Moore and Anderson signed a three-page contract with Hood dated yesterday. Anderson works for the New Orleans-based Phelps Dunbar firm, while Moore heads his own firm in Flowood.
The hiring of Moore and Anderson comes as Republican lawmakers consider curtailing Hood’s powers to hire outside lawyers and control litigation for state agencies. That dispute stems from past suits by Hood and Moore that have resulted in big awards for Mississippi and big fees for private lawyers.
“I have been working with former Supreme Court Justice Ruben Anderson and former Attorney General Mike Moore to assemble a team of lawyers and experts to quickly develop our economic damage model and calculate the economic loss to the state in the BP case,” Hood said in a statement released yesterday. “I chose Justice Anderson, who has a reputation which is beyond reproach, for his gentlemanly negotiation skills and General Moore because of his experience in negotiating the largest settlement on behalf of the state in the nation’s history.”
Moore was Mississippi’s attorney general from 1988 to 2004. Anderson was Mississippi’s first black state Supreme Court justice, serving from 1985 to 1991.
Hood said he had also hired New Orleans-based Legier & Co., a forensic accounting firm, to help Mississippi develop its economic damage model. He said the firm is working with Florida and Louisiana in a similar capacity and “has extensive experience in connection with BP oil spill claims.”
The Associated Press had been making inquiries since last Thursday, when Yallpolitics.com blogger Frank Corder wrote that Moore had been hired. Moore did not return phone calls, and Hood’s office refused to confirm it until yesterday.
Mississippi has never formally sued BP over the Macondo well blowout, but is expected to engage in settlement talks along with other Gulf states. The British oil giant recently reached a multibillion settlement with lawyers representing more than 100,000 individuals and businesses, who said they lost money or were otherwise harmed by the largest oil spill in American history. BP said it expects to pay out $7.8 billion in the settlement, but plaintiffs’ attorneys say the deal is uncapped.
Following the settlement, the focus has turned to state claims for lost tax revenues and other damages.
The settlement that Moore negotiated followed a lawsuit that the then-attorney general launched against the major tobacco companies in 1994 by hiring Richard “Dickie” Scruggs. Mississippi settled its litigation in 1997 for an estimated $4.1 billion over time. Much of the money received so far has been used to prop up the state budget in the current recession. Scruggs and affiliated lawyers are supposed to rake in nealy a billion in fees over time, stemming from the overall national settlement of $248 billion. Scruggs was sentenced to federal prison and disbarred over a legal fee dispute related to Hurricane Katrina litigation, but he’s currently trying to have the conviction overturned.
Republicans have been critical of private lawyers who have grown rich on fees from state litigation. The House and the Senate have passed versions of bills to limit Hood’s power in the current session. Hood claims those bills are unconstitutional infringements on his position as the state’s chief legal officer and notes that he is already posting contracts with outside lawyers. Advocates of the bills say the changes are needed to make sure that the public can see contracts
Hood said that the three-page contract he signed with Moore and Anderson will pay them on a contingency fee, based on how much they win for the state. He said that the lawyers agreed to first seek payment directly from BP and any other plaintiffs, so as to not cut into the state’s share. If that fails, the lawyers will propose fees that a judge must agree to.
“This is a contingency fee contract, which would allow the lawyers to share in the state’s recovery, but due to the gross negligence of BP and other responsible parties courts are allowed to make the defendants pay the attorney fees above and beyond the state’s recovery,” Hood said. “This arrangement is consistent with how the other Gulf states are handling their claims.
Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, a Republican, attacked the deal, saying it was proof of a need for a law limiting Hood’s power.
“It’s unfortunate General Hood continues to put his own political interest before the taxpayers’ interest,” Reeves said in a statement. “We need a more transparent process that allows taxpayers to know how much of their money will go toward private legal counsel.”
Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who sponsored one of the bills to limit Hood’s power agreed with Reeves.
“It just seems to me that a lawsuit that would be this wide and this deep, that you would want to put a bid out to see who would want to represent the state rather than just handpicked friends you’ve been close to for many years,” Fillingane said.
Hood said he has been coordinating his response with Gov. Phil Bryant. A Bryant spokesman did not respond to calls and emails late Tuesday.
According to records collected by the Center for Money in State Politics, Anderson appears to have donated at least $7,000 to Hood’s campaigns between 2003 and 2011. Moore’s law firm and an employee gave Hood $7,884 from 2007 to 2009, according to the same records. Unless the men funneled additional money to Hood through political committees, though, they wouldn’t rank among Hood’s top contributors. He raised nearly $1.8 million in 2011 alone.
Anderson and Moore have both given to a wide range of political candidates in multiple states.