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Corps of Engineers clarifies firearms rules in light of new carry law

June 19th, 2013 No comments

The Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says federal regulations still prohibit the possession of firearms on Corps property, in light of Mississippi’s new open carry law.

Lawmakers passed last session House Bill 2, which allows firearms to be openly carried without a permit. Firearms cannot be concealed without a concealed carry permit.

In a press release, Corps officials said a 2009 federal law that allows guns in national parks could lead to some confusion. That statute did not include parks governed by the Corps. Violating the Corps’ no-firearms policy is punishable by a fine not to exceed $5,000, six months’ imprisonment, or both.

Exceptions include firearms carried by law enforcement, those being transported between hunting and fishing sites (as long as they’re unloaded), those being used at authorized firing ranges, or carriers who have received written permission from the district commander.

Corps figures say that more than 3 million people visit annually the 262,000-acre recreational areas under the Vicksburg District’s purview. That includes, campgrounds, playgrounds, swimming areas, trails, fishing areas, boat ramps, marinas and marinas. The economic impact of those visitors, the Corps estimates, is $125 million a year, and supported 1,700 jobs.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood last week issued an opinion on House Bill 2. It said that people who are not a convicted felon can openly carry firearms, except where prohibited. Examples include private businesses that choose not to allow customers to carry, and on certain state and federal property, like Corps installations and courthouses.

Toyota settles unintended acceleration claims

February 18th, 2013 No comments

Attorney General Jim Hood announced Monday morning Mississippi was one of 29 states to settle with Toyota Motor Corp. related to unintended acceleration issues in some of the company’s vehicles.

Mississippi will receive $561,288 of the $29 million Toyota will pay to settle consumer protection claims. Toyota will also be banned from advertising safety features of its vehicles without what a press release from Hood’s office calls “sound engineering data to back such safety claims.”

Mississippi and the 28 other states claimed during the litigation that Toyota had engaged in unfair and deceptive practices when the company failed to timely disclose known safety defects with accelerator pedals.

“Our investigation led us to determine poor communication between Toyota’s nerve center in Japan and Toyota’s United States holdings were partially responsible for Toyota’s failure to report known safety issues in a timely manner,” Hood is quoted as saying in the release.

In addition, the settlement provides that Toyota is:

• Prohibited from reselling a vehicle it reacquired with alleged safety defects without informing the purchaser about the alleged defect(s) and certifying that the reacquired vehicle has been fixed

• Prohibited from misrepresenting the purpose of an inspection or repair when directing consumers to bring their vehicles to a dealer for inspection or repair

• Required to exclude from the “Toyota Certified Used Vehicles” or “Lexus Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles” categories any vehicle acquired through lemon law proceedings or voluntarily repurchased by Toyota to ensure customer satisfaction.

Consumers who have questions about restitution related to the settlement can call one of two hotlines Toyota has set up. For Toyota vehicles, call 800-331-4331. For Lexus vehicles, call 800-255-3987.

Lines are staffed from 8 a.m. CST to 8 p.m. CST Monday thru Friday, and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. CST to 6 p.m. CST.

Toyota settled late last year separate litigation related to the same issues. The company agreed to pay out $1.1 billion, and to set up a fund that would retrofit affected vehicles with technology to counter the unintended acceleration.

Categories: Jim Hood, Toyota Tags:

Fifth Circuit: Federal anti-spoofing measure preempts Mississippi law

December 28th, 2012 No comments

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in early December that a Mississippi law enacted in 2010 that prohibits “spoofing” is preempted by federal law.

In 2010, Mississippi lawmakers passed and former Gov. Haley Barbour signed the Caller ID Spoofing Act, which made it a misdemeanor to spoof – or falsify – the telephone number of a caller. Spoofing is common among telemarketers.

A federal law also enacted in 2010 made it illegal to spoof with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

New Jersey-based telecom TelTech Systems, which provides third-party spoofing services, sued the state, alleging that the Mississippi law did not allow non-harmful spoofing, something the federal law was designed to protect. A district court judge ruled in favor of TelTech, and the defendants – which included Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood – appealed to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

In its ruling, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges said that the legislative notes for the 2010 federal law revealed that “Congress intended to balance carefully the drawbacks of malicious caller ID spoofing against the benefits provided by legitimate caller ID spoofing.”

Spoofing technology has grown in popularity with the rise in smartphone use. Many apps and websites allow users to spoof their information, and even offer technology that can disguise a caller’s voice.

Instances where spoofing is considered legitimate include use by those who work from home, and want to give the impression they’re calling from an office, or professionals who regularly use their cell phones to conduct business but do not want to give out that number.

Supreme Court deals Hood another bad loss with fees rulings

May 24th, 2012 1 comment

Attorney General Jim Hood’s recent run of bad luck with the Mississippi Supreme Court continued Thursday afternoon.

The court ruled against Hood in separate fees cases related to litigation involving MCI and Microsoft.

In both instances, the court found that the law requires that any outside counsel Hood hires must be paid from his contingent fund or from other funds the Legislature appropriates to his office. Both the MCI and Microsoft cases, the court said in a split decision with partial dissents and concurrences in each opinion, failed to meet that standard.

Auditor Stacey Pickering had sued to reroute the fees payments for outside counsel through the legislative appropriations process.

This is a big win for Pickering, and yet another bad loss for Hood right on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling against him on the pardons issue.

The links to Thursday’s opinions are here and here.

UPDATE: Pickering and Gov. Phil Bryant have issued statements. Pickering’s provides a lot of background, but here’s the pertinent part:

“The Supreme Court agreed that the Mississippi Statute uses the mandatory term ‘shall,’ and we view this mandate as declaratory that all fees paid through contingency fee contracts are public funds and must be appropriated by the Mississippi Legislature. These rulings today are a victory for open government and transparency as well as for the taxpayers of Mississippi.

“These opinions set a clear precedent in Mississippi ensuring that the purse strings of the State of Mississippi are to be controlled by the Mississippi Legislature. These funds are public funds, subject not only to control by the Legislature but also subject to audit by the State Auditor’s Office. I appreciate my predecessor Governor Bryant for his leadership on this issue when it began in 2007, and I am overwhelming pleased with today’s action by the Mississippi Supreme Court.”

And here’s what Bryant, who Pickering noted initiated the original litigation, had to say:

“The money attorneys received for pursuing the MCI case on behalf of the state is public funds, something I have long believed and fought for. The State Supreme Court’s ruling is a welcome sign as we open up this age old process of hiring outside counsel and then paying them excessive amounts of money, in this case $14 million. 

While serving as State Auditor we published a report which looked into the process of paying attorney fees. The report clearly states the Attorney General did not have the authority to enter into such an agreement, because he may only pay private attorneys out of contingency funds in his budget or from other funds appropriated to the office of the Attorney General by the Legislature. I appreciate the work of State Auditor Stacey Pickering in the recovery of these public funds.”

I have a message into Hood’s spokesperson. If/when I get a response, I’ll post it.

SECOND UPDATE: Hood’s statement, in its entirety:

“These opinions by the Supreme Court simply give us direction on how to pay the attorneys that worked on these cases and in future cases. 

“We will implement and follow the law created by the Court.  In this ruling, the Court does not call into question the “validity of the Retention agreement” or the right to the attorneys being paid.  It simply says that the lawyers in these cases could not be paid directly from the defendants, and that money must flow through a state account first. In fact, the Court reiterated the Attorney General’s ability to hire good lawyers to bring important suits on behalf of Mississippi, such as with these cases. 

“The defendants made a claim in Circuit Court that they had negotiated a fee that was $3 million less than that to which they were entitled under the uncontested terms of the contract. On remand, the state will be exposed to payment of that additional $3 million.”

 

Supreme Court denies Hood’s motion to rehear pardons case

May 17th, 2012 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court has denied Attorney General Jim Hood’s motion asking justices to reconsider their decison to uphold the pardons of former Gov. Haley Barbour.

The Court, split 6-3, ruled in early March that it had no jurisdiction to review Barbour’s decision, because doing so would violate separation of powers.

The vote denying Hood’s motion for rehearing was 8-1. Justice Bubba Pierce, of Leakesville, was the lone vote to rehear the case. Such motions are rarely granted.

I’ve left a message with Hood’s spokesperson. It’s likely he’ll have a reaction to this at some point this afternoon. If/when he does, I’ll post it.

UPDATE: Hood has released a statement. Here it is, verbatim:

“It is a shame that former Governor Barbour abused the pardon power.  It is even more of a travesty that a majority of the present Mississippi Supreme Court chose not to enforce the clear language in our State Constitution.  The people will have to enforce the law by going through the initiative process to amend our Constitution to prevent this abuse of the pardon power and this travesty of justice from ever happening again.  I pray no person becomes a victim of any of these pardoned criminals.”

Hood: Justices in the majority have to agree: Barbour pardons an abuse of power

March 9th, 2012 No comments

Attorney General Jim Hood entertained questions from reporters in his office Friday afternoon about the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the scores of pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour.

He didn’t reveal much beyond what he said in a statement Thursday afternoon. He was disappointed with the ruling. He thinks it sets a dangerous constitutional precedent regarding the separation of powers among the three branches of government. And, he plans on pursuing a ballot initiative to strengthen the newspaper publication requirement related to the pardon process.

Hood did say that if various victims’ rights and law enforcement organizations would prefer a pardon review board be put in place — something several states have — instead of using the ballot initiative to simply force the state’s high court to enforce the publication clause, he would go along with that. He also said more than once that folks who think that Barbour was within his rights to issue as many pardons as he did, would be hard-pressed to deny that it wasn’t an abuse of power.

“Even the justices who voted with the majority realize that,” Hood said.

As for the initiative, Hood wasn’t sure which ballot would be the earliest the initiative could potentially be on. With roughly 120,000 signatures from the five old Congressional districts needed, it would be impossible to get the issue before lawmakers for them to put on November’s ballot before the session ends in late April. After November, Mississippi’s next statewide election will be in 2015.

There is one remedy still available to Hood. He could file a motion for re-hearing, which would entail asking the same court that ruled against him Thursday to reconsider its decision. Hood didn’t slam the door shut on that possibility; he didn’t sound very likely to actually do it, either. Such motions are almost never granted.

State Supreme Court rules Barbour’s pardons are valid

March 8th, 2012 No comments

In its list of hand downs Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld former Gov. Haley Barbour’s pardons.

The Court, split 6-3, ruled that it had no jurisdiction to review Barbour’s decision, because doing so would violate separation of powers.

“This case is about whether this Supreme Court has the right, authority, and power to declare itself superior to, and above, both the other two branches of government in all matters of constitutional compliance. While this Court clearly has the constitutional duty to interpret the content of laws passed by the Legislature and executive orders issued by the governor, we decline – as have so many other courts before us – to assume for ourselves the absolute power to police the other branches of government in fulfilling their constitutional duties to produce laws and executive orders, unless there is alleged a justiciable violation of a personal right,” Justice Jess Dickenson, writing for the majority, said in the opinion.

In all, Barbour issued 198 pardons, 26 of which applied to inmates who were incarcerated at the time. Some of those 26 received conditional clemency or were released to keep the state from having to pay their extensive medical bills. The others had already completed their sentences, and had been free in some cases for several years.

Attorney General Jim Hood argued that only two dozen or so of the pardoned had met the newspaper publication requirement, which required notice 30 days in advance that an inmate was seeking a gubernatorial pardon. He made that the centerpiece of his argument in January in front of Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green, who issued an injunction temporarily invalidating the pardons, and in early February in front of all nine of the Supreme Court justices. Green’s injunction ordered those who were incarcerated to remain in custody until appeals were exhausted.

Hood concentrated on five inmates who served as trusties at the Governor’s Mansion during Barbour’s time there, all of whom had been convicted of murder. They had already been released from confinement by the time Green issued the injunction. Each was ordered to maintain regular contact with the Mississippi Department of Corrections while the appeals played out. One, Joseph Ozment, remained missing for several days before being found in Wyoming.

MPA head: ‘Long list’ of Barbour pardons not advertised beforehand

January 12th, 2012 No comments

An email from Mississippi Press Association executive director Layne Bruce says that “a long list” of Gov. Haley Barbour’s last-minute pardons were not properly advertised in advance, as required by state law.

That’s the crux of the argument Attorney General Jim Hood made Wednesday before Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green in his attempt to gain an injunction to stop the release of some of those pardoned who were still in prison.

In the email. sent Wednesday night, Bruce told members of a MPA listserv that a search by MPA staff members to determine if each of the pardons met the 30-day notice requirement before the pardons were issued “turned up quite a long list of those that didn’t. In more than one case, the public notice for someone requesting a pardon won’t even start publishing until tomorrow (Thursday), two days after the former governor signed the pardon order.”

Green apparently had similar doubts about some of the pardons meeting the advertising requirement, because at Hood’s request she signed an order Wednesday evening halting the release of the still-incarcerated pardons.

What this means in the long run, it’s hard to tell. That the MPA, whose member newspapers in a lot of cases would serve as the advertising medium, has already determined many of Barbour’s pardons were not properly noticed certainly does not bode well for the validity of what the former governor did.

Complicating things is Butler Snow’s announcement Wednesday afternoon that Barbour had joined the firm.

Why would that be troublesome? Butler Snow serves as MPA’s general counsel.

Counterfeit med retailers raided

November 18th, 2010 No comments

Federal and state law enforcement authorities served search warrants at 27 convenience stores and Hispanic grocery stores this morning, where they seized counterfeit prescription medications.

At a press conference in his office, Attorney General Jim Hood said one arrest was made and counterfeit antibiotics, steroids and birth control was seized, along with other prescription medications. The name of the person arrested and the charge(s) he or she will face was not disclosed.

The 27 locations raided were scattered across the state. They were primarily bodegas, or Hispanic grocery stores, that sold the fake meds.

Counterfeit prescription meds that are smuggled into the U.S. are a growing problem, said Ray Parmer, special agent in charge of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Office in New Orleans.

Since 2008, the number of intellectual theft cases Parmer’s office has investigated has grown by 38 percent. Theft cases have centered on counterfeit medications, counterfeit toothpaste laced with antifreeze, tainted animal food, counterfeit automobile airbags and counterfeit aircraft parts.

“These cases rob Americans of jobs, fuel organized crime and create public safety hazards,” Parmer said.

Hood added that much of the counterfeit trade business is subsidized by the illegal drug trade.

Thursday morning’s searches and arrest were the result of a nine-month investigation that included officials from Hood’s office, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the Food and Drug Administration, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and the Mississippi State Pharmacy Board.

Parmer said undercover agents made 78 purchases of counterfeit meds at the raided locations over that nine-month period.

“This stuff is dangerous,” Hood said. “None of these are legitimate prescription drugs. You just go in and buy them over the counter.”

The joint task force was funded by a $100,000 federal grant, and Mississippi was the only recipient of the money, Hood said. Another $100,000 grant was just awarded that will fund a website that will assist law enforcement officials and consumers in determining the difference in legitimate and counterfeit prescription medications and other fake goods.

Hood added that he expects more arrests related to the investigation.

Categories: Jim Hood, News Tags:

Everybody’s working for the weekend

March 26th, 2010 1 comment

Loverboy probably didn’t have the Mississippi Legislature on their minds when the band was performing their ’80s rock anthem, “Working for the Weekend.”

But that’s exactly what lawmakers will spend their weekend doing, now that the House and Senate have agreed to suspend the session until late April. Before that happens, bond bills and other deadline-restricted legislation has to clear, hence the extended work week.

The weekend workout at the Capitol is just one of the two hot political stories that will unfold over the next few days. Gov. Haley Barbour and Attorney General Jim Hood are currently in a stare-down over Barbour’s desire to join the 14 other states in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare reform legislation President Obama signed earlier this week.

Hood told Barbour yesterday that he has to study the issues of the case a little further before he makes a decision about moving forward — or not moving forward — with the litigation. Barbour has plans to hire outside counsel to do it for him if Hood continues to balk. The two  have tied up in the past, and neither are much of a mind to blink, so this could get really good really fast. A lot of conservative Democrats — including Mississippi’s Travis Childers — voted against the healthcare legislation, so it’s not necessarily a slam dunk that Hood will refuse to participate in the lawsuit. On the other hand, Hood could just be stalling in the name of further study while he weighs his options. Throw in the fact that Hood has already said that Barbour is legally barred from filing the complaint on his own, and there’s a political brawl just waiting to happen. It’ll all shake out soon.

Until then, have a rocking weekend.

Categories: Haley Barbour, Jim Hood, News, Politics Tags: