"Create Jobs, Not Lawsuits" Tour Turns to Mississippi -- A Success Story, But Also An Ongoing Fight for Fairness

By: Lex Taylor
July 19, 2012
Mississippians for Economic Progress

Mississippi has been called the ‘home of jackpot justice’ and ‘the Lawsuit Mecca.’  Dickie Scruggs – who pled guilty to conspiring to bribe a judge and is in federal prison – liked to call it a “magic jurisdiction” where lawyers had established relationships with the judges, “the judiciary is elected with verdict money,” “cases are not won in the courtroom,” and “it doesn’t matter what the evidence or law is.”  (from Asbestos for Lunch, 2002).  Mississippi suffered, doctors closed their practice, businesses located elsewhere.

In 2004, the Mississippi Legislature passed what the Wall Street Journal called the most comprehensive tort reform in the country.  Mississippi was open for business; insurance premiums for doctors dropped and Mississippi attracted new industries which provided needed jobs.

Trial lawyers weakened as a political force, as attorneys like Scruggs, Paul Minor and a number of judges went to jail in judicial corruption scandals.  Trial lawyers seemed to still have a friend in Attorney General Jim Hood who would deputize them to sue on behalf of Mississippi and rake in millions of dollars in fees.  Some of these attorneys were Hood’s campaign contributors and would sue over the objections of state agencies.  National media shined some light on this stating that Mississippi “may well be the birthplace of AG-tort bar collusion” and the AG’s office was “a virtual plaintiffs’ law firm.”

That practice continued even after one of Hood’s “Special Assistant Attorneys General” went to jail along with Scruggs.  But in 2012, two things happened.  First, the Mississippi Legislature passed the Attorney General Sunshine Act requiring record keeping, providing oversight, and allowing state agencies to make their own legal decisions.  Second, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Hood’s method for paying outside lawyers was improper and legal fees belong to and must be paid by the state.

Good legislative policies, fewer corrupt judges and lawyers, and an Attorney General with appropriate oversight has brightened Mississippi’s litigation environment making the state more attractive for economic development, but the fight continues.

The Mississippi Supreme Court chipped away at some of the tort reforms by weakening provisions involving an expert certificate of merit, litigation statute of limitations, and pre-suit notice.  Next up for decision by the state Supreme Court is the constitutionality of the $1 million cap on noneconomic damages.

Trial lawyer supported candidates seek to capture three of the nine Court seats in an election this year with a legislator who opposed litigation reforms; a former Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association President who promotes “regulation by litigation”; and the youngest lifetime member of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association.  A trial lawyer success in November could undo much of Mississippi’s progress.

 

Lex Taylor is Chairman of Mississippians for Economic Progress. For more information, please visit the website.