In his letter addressed to Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Pittman laid out his concern's over House Bill 211.
"The attorney general is the lawyer for the state of Mississippi, by law," said Pittman, who is also a former Attorney General.
That could change. The bill, which passed the house last week after a lengthy and heated debate, would allow state agencies and department heads to hire their own attorneys without approval from the attorney general. That, Pittman says would create more problems than solutions.
"You could have 25 agencies, with 25 lawyers, with 25 different views of what the law is," said Pittman.
Serving as attorney general from 1984 to 1988, Pittman says he saw first hand the problems a law like the one proposed would create.
Pittman points to the state constitution which grants the attorney general the right to represent the state in all legal matters. If agencies hired their own attorneys, Pittman says Mississippi's legal landscape would become unstable, not to mention a cost to taxpayers from hiring private and more expensive lawyers.
"We do not want to divide and diffuse the authority of the attorney general to represent Mississippi. You want a consistent presentation. You only get that if you have one legal voice," said Pittman.
In co-authoring the bill earlier this month, republican representative Mark Baker said the bill wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime since agencies would have to use their budget for any legal costs and the bill is a way to allow those agencies to use their own judgement for legal cases.
"I think there are occasions where the attorney general attempts to legislate through litigation and by doing so attempts to affect public policy in the state of Mississippi," said Baker.
Pittman says it comes down to partisan politics, since current attorney general Jim Hood is the only democrat in state office and republicans are in control of the legislature.
Hood plans to fight the bill saying it's unconstitutional and at least one of his predecessors is in his corner.
"You have to have consistent legal policy in order to represent the public interest of this state," said Pittman.
That bill now sits in the judiciary committee, where it will probably pass, setting up still more debate on the senate floor.
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