A Washington, DC-based tort reform lobby group, American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), wrote legislation that would limit Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s power to hire outside lawyers. The legislation, H.B. 211 (pdf), would allow state agency heads to hire private attorneys instead of relying on the AG’s office to represent their interests, as well as requiring attorneys who bill the state for more than $100,000 to have those amounts published. The bill also requires outside counsel to keep detailed records of the time spent working on cases and expense reports.
“Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is one of the most successful attorneys general in U.S. history. He was one of the first AGs to bring a suit against the tobacco companies. Throughout his career, he has taken on powerful industries such as insurance companies, big tobacco, and drug companies. Hood has tallied up record settlements against a host of corporate wrongdoers including Entergy, State Farm, MCI/World Com, and BP, thus securing hundreds of millions of dollars for Mississippians,” said Terry Jesse, Executive Director of NALFA.
In a statement (pdf), Hood’s office said the bill is unconstitutional. Hood’s office projects the bill will cost the State about $11 million a year because the average private lawyer is paid $145 per hour and the AG only charges $65 per hour for the same services and that difference will be paid for by Mississippi taxpayers. The current system works. Over the past 7 years Jim Hood’s office has recovered over $500 billion for the taxpayers of the state and it did not cost the taxpayers a single dime. In addition, the law of the state already allows state agencies to file suit should the attorney general decline, or file suit even if the attorney general opposes such.