This month, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell reported that he will beg the Louisiana Legislature for $27 million to sue oil giant BP for the damage the company's oil is doing to Louisiana's lucrative fishing and tourism market.
Legislators may get fired up enough to give it to him, but there is no guarantee that they'll get a return for their investment if BP becomes belligerent. At the moment, the company is making nice, having handed over $75 million to Gulf states Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi for the mess they've caused. Generosity may only go so far, however, as the company's stock teeters just above junk status and stockholders consider bankruptcy. Caldwell may have to get restitution from the company through the courts should BP file bankruptcy or decide to defend themselves, and he and Louisiana taxpayers will have a fight on their hands.
Our own Attorney General Jim Hood has yet to call upon Mississippi legislators to cough up the investment cash for a lawsuit. He doesn't have to. Unlike Louisiana, Hood can negotiate contracts with outside attorneys who are willing to gamble on their chances of winning in court and accept payment only if they win. It's a lawyer thing. You've seen the ads on daytime television.
Strangely, pro-business legislators in Mississippi are unhappy with that system. Legislators—mostly Republicans—have submitted an average of five bills every legislative session for the past four years seeking to require Personal Service Contract Review Board to approve Hood's legal contracts. That board could then find a contract unsuitable and hand it off to a competing attorney or law firm. But the most profitable suits the state has launched against "corporate wrongdoers," as Hood calls them, have come from attorneys who stumbled across evidence of the wrongdoing and then carried that evidence to Hood with a proposition to pursue the case on behalf of the state in exchange for a cut from the proceeds. If a state authority could snatch the cases away and hand them off to a competing attorney, those attorneys likely won't approach the state with their propositions.
Republican state auditors, from Phil Bryant to Stacey Pickering, want to take away Hood's ability to privately orchestrate contracts, arguing that the state Legislature should be funding outside attorneys, not Hood—Louisiana style.
Watch Caldwell as he goes hat-in-hand to the Louisiana Legislature, asking representatives to make an investment in a suit against one of the most powerful companies in one of the most lawyered-up industries outside of Wall Street. Now, ask yourself if that's what you want for Mississippi.