MDHS says it is committed to recovering misspent taxpayer dollars and complete transparency.

On Thursday, the Mississippi State Personnel Board approved a request from the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) to proceed with engaging the Jones Walker law firm to move forward with civil litigation filed on behalf of MDHS in May of this year to recover TANF funds from 38 parties named as defendants in the pending lawsuit.

Earlier this week, MDHS told Y’all Politics that they had worked with Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office in selection of the outside counsel.  Fitch’s office had already approved the proposed contract with Jones Walker prior to the meeting of the Personnel Board.

This follows MDHS deciding not to renew the one-year contract with attorney Bill Pigott, giving him notice of the non-renewal in late July.  Pigott was hired as outside counsel for MDHS in July 2021 with a contract date of August 1st of that year. His hiring was also initially approved at the time by both Attorney General Fitch and the Executive Director of the State Personnel Board.

Pigott would go on to claim that his non-renewal was politically motivated, running to Mississippi Today to make his case in the media.

Yet, MDHS Executive Director Bob Anderson told Y’all Politics that was not the case.  He said that Pigott made decisions about the litigation and filed pleadings without any prior dialogue with officials at MDHS.

Governor Tate Reeves, the state’s chief executive, addressed the non-renewal of Pigott’s contract at the Neshoba County Fair.

“The way in which the attorney has acted since his contract was non-renewed has proven to a lot of people of why he is the absolute wrong person to represent the State. He is the wrong person to represent the taxpayers,” Reeves told reporters.

Governor Reeves went on to say that some media outlets have “made stuff up” about Pigott’s non-renewal, adding that the state does not need legal representation that is focused on trying to be an informant for a “left-wing blog.”

Governor Reeves said firmly that he is committed to seeing the case through no matter where it leads in an effort to recover any and all funds that were improperly spent through MDHS.

In a release on Thursday following the approval of Jones Walker, MDHS Executive Director Anderson agreed with Governor Reeves, saying that the litigation must go forward to accomplish their stated goal of recovering the taxpayers’ money.

“This litigation must go forward to accomplish our stated goal of recovering and returning to the taxpayers the millions of dollars in misspent TANF funds,” said Anderson.

Anderson was quoted as saying that MDHS has selected Jones Walker, a firm of some 370 attorneys with offices and professionals in eight states and the District of Columbia, to continue with this important litigation.

“After talking with a number of firms, many of whom had conflicts with taking on this work, we selected Jones Walker because they are, in our view, the firm best suited to handle this matter and move it forward by continuing to evaluate claims against additional parties, written discovery, depositions, trial, and appeal, if necessary,” Anderson said.

MDHS noted that Jones Walker has been named by BTI Consulting Group as part of its Client Service A-Team, but also, the Jackson Office “has many fine lawyers who are well-qualified to handle this litigation.”

Kaytie Pickett and Adam Stone will lead the Jones Walker team representing MDHS.  The MDHS release says that the two focus their practices on complex commercial litigation and have handled high-profile, challenging, and large commercial cases in a number of states. Both are leaders in the American Bar Association in public contract and procurement law. Pickett is Vice-Chair of the Public Contract Committee in the State and Local Government Section of the ABA, and Stone is Vice-Chair of the State and Local Procurement Law Division of the ABA.

“While Brad Pigott initiated and prepared the original complaint in this case, we believe that Jones Walker is who we need to finish the process of getting to final judgment and recovery of funds. They have a deep bench and are well acquainted with complex electronic discovery platforms, which will be crucial in a case like this involving hundreds and thousands of documents. We look forward to working with the team at Jones Walker,” Anderson concluded in this statement.

MDHS says this new contract allows MDHS to effectively represent the State’s interests and to recoup the funds for the people of Mississippi, adding that the agency is committed to complete transparency.

MDHS says it is even more resolved to move the agency forward by continuing to help Mississippi families by providing tangible help today to create a lasting hope for tomorrow.

Governor Reeves released a statement following the Jones Walker approval.

“MDHS has announced their selection of a new law firm to handle our TANF litigation. They have a well-known reputation for integrity, and the full-service capabilities to handle the sweeping scale of this case. 
 
“They will vigorously pursue this case—wherever it leads. They will eagerly cooperate with those criminal investigators whose mission is to get truth and justice for the misconduct that occurred during the previous administration. And they will leave no stone unturned in the effort to recover misspent TANF funds. 
 
“This work is just beginning, and it may take years—but we will follow the facts wherever they go and pursue it for as long as it takes. That is what the state has done since I took office, and we will continue to do it aggressively.”