Get ready, Mississippi, because a new era of state politics has dawned. We haven’t seen anything like this here before – two organized state party machines going after each other full-tilt, with big business fully behind one and wealthy trial lawyers and national news media behind the other.
News is breaking statewide today that State Auditor Phil Bryant, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, is demanding the return to the state of $14 million in legal fees from the state’s settlement with MCI-WorldCom. Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood directed these legal fees to two law firms, one of which is run by his buddy and top campaign contributor, Joey Langston. Hood has previously caught flak for his pal getting millions from the state for what appeared to be light legal work.
But there’s a new twist. Bryant in recent days sent a letter to Hood, asking Hood, whose office provides legal representation to state agencies, for legal representation in going after the $14 million in fees. This apparently resulted in Langston contacting media in short order about the issue.
The question arises as to whether Hood tipped his buddy off that his client, the State Auditors Office, was seriously going after the money. This would, at the least, raise questions about whether Hood observed attorney-client privilege.
This could be a nuclear issue during a campaign year and could, by proxy, hurt Democrats up and down ticket from Hood, including gubernatorial candidate John Arthur Eaves Jr. and lieutenant governor-candidate Jamie Franks Jr. Both are part of the elite corps of super-successful Mississippi trial lawyers to which Langston belongs. This trial lawyer corps remains the Democrats’ main source of campaign funding. The corps has suffered serious blows from the state GOP’s successful push for tort reform, or, as Republicans like to call it, “an end to lawsuit abuse” which has been a centerpiece of Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s campaign for re-election.