Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hood: HB 122 would create "a system ripe for cronyism"

As previously reported, HB 122, the so-called "Sunshine Act" was taken up by Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon) and the House Judiciary A Committee at 8:30 a.m. this morning.  Baker, denying requests from numerous members of his own committee and Attorney General Jim Hood, refused to allow the Attorney General to testify or even speak during this morning's meeting.

Since that time, General Hood has issued the following press release:


AG Warns New Bill Will Cause Chaos for State's Legal Business
February 7, 2012

Contact: Jan Schaefer
Public Information Officer

Jackson, MS-Attorney General Jim Hood today is warning that House Bill 122 introduced last night under the cover of darkness and passed out of the House Judiciary A Committee early this morning by Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton and Representative Mark Baker of Brandon violates the constitution which gives the Attorney General the sole authority to speak in court with one voice on behalf of the state. The bill would allow state officials, agencies, boards, commissions, departments or institutions to hire their own outside attorneys over the Attorney General.

General Hood, who had a budget committee hearing this morning at 8:30 before the Senate, asked Mark Baker, Chairman of the House Judiciary A Committee, to give him a day to read the bill before he held a hearing on it, but Baker refused. When General Hood asked Baker to at least wait until he could finish his Senate budget hearing, Baker refused. When General Hood was allowed to leave the Senate Appropriations sub-committee hearing early, he went into the House hearing, but Baker refused to recognize General Hood so that he could advise the Committee members of the constitutional problems with the bill.

General Hood stated, "The people elected Philip Gunn, Mark Baker and me to work together, regardless of party. The least they could have done would have been to give the Committee members an opportunity to hear from the people's lawyer the truth about the bill. It is obvious that by the way they introduced this so-called "sunshine bill" under the cover of darkness last night and passed it out of committee at 8:30 this morning that they did not want the people to hear the truth. I hope the voters in Speaker Gunn's district in Clinton and Chairman Baker's district in Brandon will call them tonight and ask why they railroaded a bill through without even giving the people's lawyer an opportunity to speak to the committee."

State law makes the Attorney General the Chief Legal Officer of the State intrusted with management of all legal affairs of the state, and prosecution of all suits, civil or criminal, in which the state is interested, having power to control and manage all litigation on behalf of the state, and to maintain all suits necessary for enforcement of state laws, preservation of order, and protection of public rights. Kennington-Saenger Theatres, Inc. v. State ex rel. District Att'y, 196 Miss. 841, 18 So. 2d 483 (1944).

HB122 seeks to strip the Attorney General's constitutional authority and amend several state statutes in the process.

"The Attorney General is put in place to defend the state's interests and to provide a unified voice to the state on all legal matters," said Attorney General Hood. "If this bill passes, then agency heads with agendas and interests of their own will be allowed to pursue those interests on the taxpayers' dime over the states interest as a whole with no oversight. We have had several cases where agency directors have been sued for sexual harassment. Their interests have been to spend money defending a losing case; whereas, the state's interest was to settle the case and save money on lawyers."

Take for example, a recent case where the Department of Revenue hired their own lawyers who attempted to settle a case for approximately $3 million. The Attorney General pursued the same case and received $100 million for the state. Moreover, the $4 billion the state recovered from tobacco companies would have never occurred had this law been in place.

"What you have here is nothing more than an attempt to weaken the power of the Attorney General and to create a 'good ole boy' system of doing legal business in this state," said Attorney General Hood.

"I am so disappointed that I was not even allowed to address committee members, many of whom are newly elected lawmakers, to provide them with my perspective concerning the dangers of this bill," said Attorney General Hood. "The chairman of today's hearing refused to even allow me to testify."

The Attorney General added, "This bill creates a system ripe for cronyism, chaos, more government, duplication of services and is a severe waste of taxpayer dollars. It is not in the public interest or the way our constitution intended. Corporate wrongdoers and other criminals will celebrate if this bill passes. I hope lawmakers will see through this ludicrousness and do what is right."



bill said...

Matt, this is about two things - making sure the AG knows that he's not going to push his way around the House and trying to stop him from enriching his friends. I don't agree with how they're trying to do it. I think we can leave the hiring power in the AG's office and solve the enriching the friends problem by simply changing the way the outside attorneys are paid. There are plenty of attorneys who work on an hourly rate, and many of them are with prestigious and reputable firms who can do a good job representing the interests of the state. I agree the AG should retain the rights to hire outside counsel, but the legislature should decide how they're paid.

I know you have made the argument that we would have never won the tobacco case and others without contingency fee attorneys. Does that also means that the attorneys wouldn't have taken the case on an hourly basis with their fees guaranteed? Or maybe they would have taken it but wouldn't have worked as hard to get us the award had they not gotten their cut? You may be describing some good attorneys, but they're also self centered jerks if they would walk away and leave their state hanging just because there wasn't a big payout at the end for them. Contingency based representation is for people who can't afford to pay a lawyer anything unless they win. The state is certainly not in that client category. By the way, this also goes for bond attorneys, architects, engineers...anyone who works on a percentage instead of an hourly rate at any level of government. Bill Billingsley

Jesus Was a Capricorn said...

Bill, you are failing to understand how the law works. In these cases, the lawyers ARE NOT guaranteed to receive ANY fees. So what, you want to pay them whether they win or lose? That makes no sense. That is why they work on a contingency (percentage) basis. Apparently, you are not the only one that fails to understand this. The majority of the House of Representatives seems to have a problem with the concept as well.

bill said...

I understand the concept of contingency fees. I just don't agree that the state should use them. I would rather pay the attorneys an hourly rate in a losing effort than give up the millions we pay them if we win. Again, to suggest that the attorneys working on a contingent fee basis won't work as hard if there's not a big upside for them simply suggests to me that we need to find more ethical outside counsel. BB