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.”