Should state Attorneys General be able to outsource their legal work to for-profit tort lawyers, who then funnel a share of their winnings back to the AGs? That's become a sleazy practice in many states, and it is finally coming under scrutiny -- notably in Mississippi, home of Dickie Scruggs, Attorney General Jim Hood, and other legal pillars.
We've recently examined documents from the AG's office detailing which law firms he has retained. We then cross-referenced those names with campaign finance records. The results show that some of Mr. Hood's largest campaign donors are the very firms to which he's awarded the most lucrative state contracts.
In 2007 alone Mr. Hood received some $790,000 from partners and law firms that have benefited financially from his office. That is more than half of all of Mr. Hood's itemized contributions for 2007.
This kind of quid pro quo is legal in Mississippi and most other states. However, if this kind of sweetheart arrangement existed between a public official and business interests, you can bet Mr. Hood would be screaming about corruption. Yet Mr. Hood and his trial bar partners are fighting even Mississippi's modest attempt to require more transparency in their contracts. The AG says it's all part of a plot to undermine his attempts to "recoup the taxpayers' money from corporate wrongdoers."
The real 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. Government is supposed to act on behalf of the public interest, not for the personal profit of trial lawyers. The tort bar-AG cabal deserves to be exposed nationwide.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Only the latest in dirty government
in today's WSJ:
Posted by Caveat Bettor at 9:08 AM