By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law Tuesday legislation that he and other supporters say will bring “sunshine” to the practice of the attorney general hiring private counsel to pursue lawsuits on behalf of the state.
But Attorney General Jim Hood and others say the “Sunshine Act” is unconstitutional and will cost the state millions of dollars.
The bill, which will become law on July 1, is aimed at the attorney general’s practice of hiring outside attorneys on a contingency fee basis. Hood and his predecessor, Mike Moore, have said they hire outside counsel in unusual cases where their office does not have the manpower, expertise or finances to pursue complicated and expensive litigation.
But in many instances those lawsuits have been opposed by other state officials.
The legislation Bryant signed Tuesday would allow an agency to hire attorneys if there is a disagreement with the attorney general’s strategy. Hood said the state Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled “the attorney general alone has the right to represent the state.”
If the bill had been law, Hood said it would have cost the state billions of dollars because the state would not have been speaking with one voice when suing the tobacco companies.
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, one of the primary advocates of the bill, has said the attorney general’s use of outside counsel often has been unnecessary.
The bill requires the contingency fee contracts to be posted on the attorney general’s web page, requires the attorney to keep records of expenses and puts into law the percentage of the award an attorney can garner.