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Attorney General Jim Hood threatens to sue over Mississippi Sunshine Law

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May 24, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Mississippi

Jackson, Mississippi: On May 22, 2012, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed a bill, effective July 1, 2012, which restricts the power of the attorney general.[1] Dubbed the Mississippi Sunshine Act, House Bill 211 addresses the need, according to the law's supporters, to "rein in the troublesome practice of awarding contingency fee contracts to plaintiffs' lawyers who are also major campaign contributors to the state attorney general."[2] The issue stems from the office's ability to personally select private lawyers whose contracts and fees are arranged at the attorney general's discretion . The Sunshine Law requires the attorney general to appoint outside counsel to represent a state agency or elected official in the event that the attorney general either refuses, or is in conflict with the agency or official. Once it takes effect, an attorney general will no longer be able to unilaterally bring suits on behalf of a state agency or elected official. Instead, an agency or elected official will have seven working days to object and seek out alternate counsel. That outside counsel would then be subject to approval by a commission comprised of the governor, lieutenant governor, and secretary of state. If an objection is made, the attorney general would have to withdraw from representing the agency.

It also requires outside counsel to keep detailed time and expense records and caps the total fee paid to contingency lawyers at $50 million.[3]

Current Attorney General of Mississippi Jim Hood, according to the Associated Press, claims the law is unconstitutional and has threatened to sue over limits to his power.[3] He also takes issue with the entirely Republican composition of the commission, to which he - as the lone Democratic statewide elected official - will have to submit under certain conditions in the future.[3]

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