Today, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, through Special Assistant Attorney General Mary Jo Woods, filed an objection to an April 20, 2010, motion to unseal court records in State Farm vs. Jim Hood. This was not the first time Hood objected to the media’s involvement in this case. In May 2009, Hood filed an objection on procedural grounds to keep the media companies out of the case. However, in March 2010, Judge David Bramlette ruled to allow a group of media outlets, Jackson New Media, Inc., WLBT, WLOX and WDAM, the right to intervene in the case and request that certain court materials be unsealed.
In today’s motion, Hood gives three main arguments as to why the case materials should be sealed.
1. He claims it’s been two years since the case materials were sealed and nothing has changed
2. The court has the discretion to keep them sealed
3. The materials were sealed at the agreement of State Farm and Hood’s office. If they are unsealed then Hood threatens that the settlement agreement (which no one has seen) may be challenged or fall apart.
However, in the final paragraph of the objection, Hood inexplicably mangles his own logic and says . . .
“should the Court be inclined to lift the seal as to any of the undisclosed records, the Attorney General would strongly urge the Court to remove the seal in its entirety, allowing complete public disclosure of both the settlement agreement and the in camera testimony. If, as the Intervenors suggest, there is an overriding interest in allowing the public to know what happened in this case, then that interest may only be fulfilled by allowing access to all of the records in this case.
With apologies to Mississippi author Quentin Whitwell, author of If By Whiskey, Hood seems to channel the legendary Mississippi legislator Soggy Sweat in his infamous If By Whiskey speech where he passionately argues for both sides of the very same issue.
General Hood’s persistent objections to media openness in a case involving the state is puzzling in light of comments made to Clarion Ledger columnist David Hampton.
Q (HAMPTON): What does transparency in government mean to you?
A (HOOD): “It’s the people’s business and they deserve to see every single aspect of what goes in their business. Any type of contracts that are entered into, any type of meetings. . . . The exception is what we often do as far as the law enforcement (prosecutorial) aspect and you have to keep that secret until the case is indicted and then, at that point, you can only talk about what becomes a public record, what is actually filed with the circuit clerk. And then you can’t talk about aspects of the case until they plead guilty… At that point, my policy is that it becomes open and that you file it with the exception of redacting confidential informants’ names.”
Here is some history on the ongoing media fight for openness. Hood’s objection filed against the media organizations can also be found below.