Federal Judge: Mississippi Attorney General Conspired with Trial Lawyer

June 9, 2008

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood wrongly conspired with prominent trial attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs to skirt a court order in a case involving Hurricane Katrina insurance claims, a federal judge ruled.

Referring to Hood as a “so-called law enforcement officer,” U.S. District Judge William Acker said the attorney general helped his “close confidant” Scruggs avoid handing over stolen insurance company documents that Scruggs wanted for lawsuits against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

Acker did not recommend any criminal or civil action against Hood in the opinion, filed June 5.

But the judge cited Scruggs and two whistleblowers for civil contempt and ordered them to pay $65,000 in attorney fees to an Alabama company that worked for State Farm and sued in Birmingham after its records were taken.

In a news release June 6, Hood said he planned to file a motion asking Acker “to revise such uncalled for derogatory conclusions.”

Hood accused Acker of interfering with a grand jury investigation and said judicial rules do not allow for “unnecessary attacks” on court officials.

Hood’s office did not respond to questions about the personal relationship between the attorney general and Scruggs, who separately is facing up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to bribe a Mississippi judge over $26.5 million in legal fees related to Katrina cases.

Alabama-based E.A. Renfroe & Co. Inc. worked as an adjusting firm for State Farm after Katrina wiped out much of the Gulf Coast in 2005. Sisters Cori and Kerri Rigsby claimed the insurer was trying to avoid paying claims through fraud and took records from E.A. Renfroe, their employer.

The sisters provided records to Scruggs, who became entangled in the dispute over the documents after E.A. Renfroe filed suit seeking their return.

Attorneys for Scruggs did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Harlan F. Winn III, a lawyer for the sisters, said they were disappointed with the ruling and had not decided whether to appeal.

E.A. Renfroe accuses the sisters of wrongly taking the documents. A lawyer for the company, Barbara Ellis Stanley, declined to comment.

Acker previously accused Scruggs of criminal contempt for taking the records from the sisters and giving them to Hood, but another judge threw out that case. Acker then found Scruggs and the Rigsby sisters guilty of civil contempt and ordered them to pay $65,000 in attorney fees and expenses.

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