State Farm settlement agreement unsealed - - Jackson, MS

State Farm settlement agreement unsealed

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By Cheryl Lasseter - bio|email|twitter

Back in March of this year, Attorney General Jim Hood made this comment for a 3 On Your Side story regarding the Freedom of Information Act. "It tells me that if someone's trying to keep you from getting documents, they've got something to hide," General Hood stated.

Was that the motivation of General Hood himself when he tried to keep sealed a February 2008 settlement agreement between his office and State Farm Insurance?

An intervening group which includes WLBT fought that federal court order, and won this week.

"Y'all politics was joined by WDAM, WLOX, and WLBT to petition the court to unseal these records," says Alan Lange, Editor of the "Y'all Politics" online blog.

The contents of the settlement agreement hold nothing particularly scandalous. It dictates that the Attorney General's office had agreed to stop prosecuting State Farm's handling of Hurricane Katrina claims.

But General Hood ended up filing an additional Grand Jury subpoena against State Farm. State Farm then sued for breach of agreement.

In 2008, General Hood's spokesperson Jan Schaefer stated, "There is no settlement. The only reason it is referred to as such is because the details of the Attorney General's criminal investigation needed to be protected. The case was dismissed because the allegations were false."

Andy Taggart, attorney for the intervenors, says we now know that's not true.

"By saying the case was dismissed because the charges were untrue, wrong. The fact of the matter is, he did have a subpoena issued that he did violate his agreement not to have further criminal investigation. He had to withdraw that subpoena," Taggart says.

It's unclear why General Hood entered into such an agreement with State Farm in the first place. Lange points out that Dickie Scruggs's judicial bribery case was in full steam at the time.

"This was February 2008, criminal defense was going on at that point in time, Dickie Scruggs was deposed in the case. That was not made part of the record in this case," Lange says.  He also tells us that around this time, Scruggs made a campaign contribution to Hood in the $250,000 range.

In June 2008, Alabama Federal Judge William Acker called Hood a co-conspirator and an aider and abettor with Scruggs, regarding State Farm documents that ended up in Hood's hands soon after Hurricane Katrina.

At the time, Hood called that conclusion an unnecessary attack.

Whether Hood's relationship with Scruggs played a role in the settlement with State Farm is anyone's guess.

"Our lawyer, the Attorney General for Mississippi, ought not to be entering into agreements that he keeps secret from the people of Mississippi," Taggart says.

General Hood released a response Friday, stating "The Attorney General's position was and still is that if the motion to unseal the settlement transcript was granted, this Court should also unseal all in camera testimony and exhibits."

Through email, 3 On Your Side requested additional comment from the Attorney General's office, but we have not gotten a response.

The public may also soon have access to November 2007 testimony made by Courtney Schloemer, a staff attorney in the Attorney General's Office, regarding the State Farm settlement.  

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