From the 1700s to about the time of the Civil War, various governments issued Letters of Marque (pronounced mahrk). These were official sanctions that allowed private entities to raid and capture ships of foreign or hostile nations and seize assets as a retaliatory measure.

It seems this privateer arrangement is alive and well in the Mississippi judicial system.

Backed by the full faith and credit of the state of Mississippi (often complete with criminal/civil prosecutorial coercion), this legal band of privateers have pillaged the landscape for personal enrichment for two decades to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars via Tobacco, MCI, State Farm, and there are others. By precedent, these letters are issued on a “first come-first served” basis.

But all of this goes back to tobacco. A lot of people know about Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco company executive that the Insider movie was based on, but most people don’t know how we came to know him.

A PBS Frontline piece documents the emerging tobacco juggernaut in fascinating detail. According to the timeline, in 1988, a paralegal names Merrell Williams at a Kentucky law firm began stealing internal client documents. Williams eventually met an attorney named Dickie Scruggs. Scruggs had already been contacted by then AG Mike Moore, who had been in touch with Clarksdale attorney and Ole Miss Law chum Mike Lewis. Lewis came up with the idea to sue tobacco companies on behalf of taxpayers.

According to his own interview with Frontline, Scruggs adopted Williams as a consultant and paid him a handsome fee in the form of loans. At the same time, Moore and Scruggs approached Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA). Waxman who had already had the tobacco executives in front of his committee, now speaks in terms of criminal prosecution for perjury for those executives. Plus, the documents began being systematically leaked into the public domain so that they then become admissable in court. Then the tobacco companies crumble.

Fast forward to 2005. Two sisters working for an insurance adjuster steal thousands of internal documents from their employers. Magically, they find their way to Dickie Scruggs. After being accused by Judge Acker of contempt, Scruggs sends them to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (who actually reportedly already had the documents). The Rigsby sisters go on retainer for $150,000 per year apiece as consultants and have their civil defense paid for. Meanwhile, Jim Hood initiates state proceedings against State Farm (the ultimate target). However, this time, the tables get turned and Hood finds himself involved in a countersuit where he may indeed have to testify soon as he was ordered to in November before a temporary halt to proceedings.. He recently filed motions to resume the suit with State Farm after a cessation of hostilities.

Does this sound remotely familiar? Doesn’t this sound a little bit like a pattern?

Again, a lot of these incidents in a vacuum don’t mean a whole lot. The Rigsby sisters getting $150K/year is not THAT big of a deal. However, when you hold it up to the light and look at the history of the guy at the top of the pyramid (Scruggs) and the political bit players (Hood & Moore), all of this foolishness starts piecing together as a pattern and making a lot more sense.