Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran this editorial tilted “Mississippi Justice on Email”. The article makes a poor attempt to connect the Scruggs State Farm litigation to Attorney General Jim Hood’s request to Congress that it rewrite federal law to allow Mississippi to sue Gulf Oil Spill companies in state court. In attempting to make a connection that is not there, the editorial made several comments that are insulting and unfair to the Mississippi legal system.
To be clear, I’m not defending Hood’s tactics with State Farm. I’m not a Hood apologist and I have criticized him several times on this blog. Suffice it to say that Hood probably could have handled the State Farm litigation better. But that does not mean that there is a connection between the State Farm litigation and the oil spill litigation.
Consider these statements in the editorial:
- It turns out that Mr. Hood was so tight with the Mississippi tort mob that he turned to them for help to refute our arguments that he was . . . in bed with the Mississippi tort mob.
- Mississippi is famed for its jackpot justice, and as the emails reveal, Mr. Hood and his cabal work together to squeeze settlements from their targets.
- As with the Katrina litigation, the Pascagoula lawsuit society is hoping for the mother of all jackpots against Big Oil. If the AG can keep this litigation at home, he can use the powers of his office to work with this crew to hit another gusher.
- BP and the other companies involved in the spill will be writing big checks no matter where the cases are adjudicated, and rightly so. But Mr. Hood offered no compelling reason in his Congressional testimony that the lawsuits against the oil giant belong outside of federal court. The only reason would be to allow Mr. Hood and his "friends" greater ability to stack the deck against industry and the rule of law.
First, reference to a “Mississippi tort mob” is a little much. Some lawyers—fewer than 10–-broke the law. They got caught. They were disbarred and went to jail. The characterization of a “tort mob” suggests a massive conspiracy and a legal system run amuck. That is not the case in Mississippi.
Second, while Mississippi is known for jackpot justice, that’s history. Germany is known for military aggression, but that doesn’t mean that France and Poland should prepare for invasion. The combination of tort reform and, to a larger extent, the Mississippi Supreme Court changing the law on joinder and appellate bonds ended “jackpot justice.” There are even defense verdicts coming out of Jefferson County, once the epicenter of jackpot justice. It has literally been years since I have heard one person who actually practices in the system say that the Mississippi legal system is plaintiff biased. Maybe the Journal should devote its time to containing the spread of communism from the Soviet Union.
Third, what the heck is the Pascagoula lawsuit society? And is the fact that Mississippi plaintiff lawyers are pursuing oil spill litigation any different from other affected states? The Journal agrees that: “BP and the other companies involved in the spill will be writing big checks no matter where the cases are adjudicated, and rightly so.” So what’s wrong with lawyers representing oil spill victims?
Fourth, there is nothing inherently wrong with Hood trying to get a home field advantage in oil spill litigation. The oil companies are also trying to get a home field advantage by having the cases heard in federal court in Houston. Mississippi’s legal system is not crooked and locating the oil spill litigation in Mississippi would not “stack the deck” any more—or less—than locating it in Houston.
Mississippi’s judicial system is an easy target for a New York based newspaper. But its continuing criticism of a legal system that is not broken is unfair.