February 25, 2008

State AG - Trial Lawyer Cabal

Last spring, the Committee for Justice applauded President Bush’s order barring federal agencies from hiring outside counsel on a contingency fee basis, a practice which allowed trial lawyers to earn exorbitant fees while ostensibly representing the American people. We noted that the problem was particularly pernicious at the state level, as an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal – focusing on Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood – makes clear.

What the Journal found by examining Hood’s campaign finance records is disturbing. The outside law firms that Mr. Hood retained to “represent” Mississippians – while typically collecting huge contingency fees – contributed more than $500,000 in campaign contributions to Hood during the past two election cycles. Similar kickbacks have come from “law firms that have piggybacked their class action suits on Hood's state prosecutions.” What’s more, in 2007 alone, law firms benefiting from their cozy relationships with Mr. Hood funneled another $550,000 in contributions to Hood through a 527 group.

As if all that is not enough to call Mr. Hood’s judgment – if not his integrity – into question, consider that one of the trial attorneys in bed with Hood pleaded guilty to corruptly influencing a judge, while another stands indicted on bribery charges. It’s no wonder that “Mr. Hood and his trial bar partners are fighting even Mississippi's modest attempt to require more transparency in their contracts.”

Unfortunately, this “tort bar-AG cabal” is hardly limited to Mississippi. As the Journal op-ed notes, the larger issue is
“the way this AG-tort bar mutual financial interest creates perverse incentives that skew the cause of justice. A decision to prosecute is an awesome power, and it ought to be motivated by evidence and the law, not by the profit motives of private tort lawyers and the campaign needs of an ambitious Attorney General.”

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