In the letters, dated Feb. 25, to District Attorney Ben Creekmore of Lafayette County, Hinds County DA Robert Shuler Smith and Booneville DA John Young, Hood said: “The full resources of my office will be available to you should you choose to pursue state charges.”
That’s a good step by Hood, but it doesn’t go far enough. How to go is tricky.
Hood is in a difficult situation, as the former district attorney for the Oxford district. He has worked with those accused and with Judge Lackey, who alerted federal officials to start the investigation and bring the charges. He has said that it would be seen as a conflict for him to bring charges.
“I’m too close to them,” he told The Clarion-Ledger Editorial Board last month. “It would be like prosecuting my relatives.”
Hood has awarded outside counsel contracts to – and has received campaign contributions from – some of those charged. They are friends and associates, he admits.
If he did bring charges, people would question his impartiality.
But if he doesn’t bring charges, people will question his impartiality.
From an ethical standpoint, Hood is likely personally prohibited from prosecuting his campaign contributors and legal associates.
But the attorney general’s office is not prohibited from prosecuting state judicial bribery charges against anyone or assisting local prosecutors. If state charges are applicable, they should be prosecuted.
The key is ensuring that Hood is disassociated from the prosecution to ensure impartiality. He can do that by appointing someone to be independently responsible for the case and all associated matters.
If Hood names an outside counsel, or special assistant publicly accountable, he underscores his own integrity, and removes himself as a potential barrier to justice being served. He should do so as a matter of duty.