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Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood asks for voter support from the audience at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The fair is a traditional gathering place for politicians, area residents, business leaders, voters and families. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Analysis: Sprawling Google litigation keeps testing Jim Hood

 

JACKSON — Attorney General Jim Hood professes pride in the number of large corporations that he’s gone after as Mississippi’s chief legal officer. But the sprawling Google litigation he’s involved in continues to spawn embarrassing incidents.

Questions about Hood’s role are spilling over into his re-election race for attorney general against Republican Mike Hurst. It didn’t help that Google rolled out more evidence July 23 that the Internet giant says shows Hood in cahoots with movie studios.

Hood is already trying to recover his legal footing, after U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate ruled for Google’s effort to freeze an investigatory subpoena issued by Hood into its practices.

That subpoena demanded the company produce information on whether Google is helping criminals by allowing its search engine to lead to pirated music, having its autocomplete function suggest illegal activities and sharing YouTube ad revenue with the makers of videos promoting illegal drug sales. Instead of complying, Google sued in Wingate’s court.

Google argued Hood wants to censor the Internet and violate Google’s constitutional rights. Leaked documents indicated that the Motion Picture Association of America helped draft a subpoena that ultimately sparked Wingate’s ruling. The movie industry and Google have been at odds over copyright law, with studios failing to win more restrictive federal laws and Google defending the status quo.

Hood has defended his cooperation with the movie industry, saying he’s working with victims of crimes.

Both sides continue to fight over documents they want from the each other.

Google filed two actions June 1 to force document production. In New York, it sued Twenty-First Century Fox, NBCUniversal and Viacom, while in Washington, D.C., it sued the Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA law firm Jenner & Block and a group that’s opposed Google, the Digital Citizens Alliance.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in New York sent that dispute to Wingate. But that happened only after Google produced a document between Hood’s staffers and Brian Cohen, MPAA’s head of state government lobbying.

That document includes a proposal by Hood’s staff to pressure Google by orchestrating news coverage during the summer 2013 meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in Boston. It envisioned slamming Google on NBC’s Today show and in the Wall Street Journal, both news outlets then associated with movie studios.

That never happened, but Google said the email again proves links between movie studios and Hood.

Those targeted by Google say it’s the one acting improperly. Jenner & Block, seeking to deny Google’s request, says the Internet giant’s purpose is “to disseminate these documents publicly as part of its ongoing public relations war.”

The MPAA law firm also warns allowing Google to get the documents will “send a message to anyone who dares to seek government redress for Google’s facilitation of unlawful conduct: If you and your attorneys exercise their First Amendment right to seek redress from a government official, Google will come after you.”

Hood himself is seeking documents from Google in Wingate’s court as he and the company joust over making Wingate’s temporary order permanent. Hood argues Google is “stonewalling” his attempt to test claims that Google merely passes along content from third parties.

“Google seeks to avoid accountability to anyone — whether refusing to respond to a valid CID (civil investigative demand) issued by a state attorney general or refusing to respond to limited discovery requests in this federal action,” Hood’s lawyers wrote in July.

Hood has his hopes pinned on an appeal of Wingate’s original order to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Forty other attorneys general are backing Hood’s appeal, saying actions like Google’s would crimp investigations.

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