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Jim Hood

Now this is bound to end well: Mississippi lawmakers vote to give Attorney General Jim Hood, a frequent mentionee in this space, his own strike forces [Radley Balko, AP]

August 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 2, 2013

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Following through on a deal announced a year ago, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, representing the state under an arrangement with current Attorney General Jim Hood, has now sued BP over damages from the giant Transocean Gulf oil spill. [WaPo, YallPolitics, Sid Salter/Jackson Clarion Ledger] The two figures have long been entwined with each other — and both with now-disgraced Gulf Coast attorney Dickie Scruggs — in litigations that leverage the power of the state to the advantage of private lawyers, including the Great Tobacco Robbery of the late 1990s and Katrina claims.

Peeking under the Hood, cont’d: Mississippi has finally passed sunshine legislation exposing to public scrutiny dealings of its attorney general with outside law firms, which can make large sums in contingency arrangements representing the state [Maggie Haberman, Politico] Not exactly unrelatedly, a Mississippi court has ruled that a settlement of the state’s case against MCI can’t funnel $14 million separately to private lawyers representing Hood on the theory that it was just a side payment and never represented public funds [YallPolitics, earlier on now-disbarred lead private lawyer in case]

The cozy dealings between the state of Mississippi and well-connected private lawyers — especially the way the state comes to hire those lawyers on contingency fee to pursue high-ticket suits against outside defendants — have long furnished grist for this site. Now, opening a new chapter, Mississippi AG Jim Hood has hired former AG Michael Moore, like Hood a longtime Overlawyered favorite, to sue BP over the effects of the Transocean oil spill on the state. [AP, YallPolitics] Per YallPolitics, “Interestingly, there is no specific financial arrangement. Moore and Hood contractually agree to work it out later and have fees paid directly by BP to the as yet to be named legal team led by Moore.” When Moore hired later-disgraced Dickie Scruggs to represent Mississippi what was to develop into the most profitable litigation in history — the multistate tobacco caper — the financial details were likewise shrouded in secrecy, and it was later claimed that there was no written agreement.

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If Attorney General Jim Hood wanted to avoid the impression that he was thick with the Scruggs crowd, he probably shouldn’t have had them vet his response to the Wall Street Journal before he sent it off. [David Rossmiller, earlier]

August 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 29, 2008

  • One for your “firefighter’s rule” file: firefighter perishes in blaze, his widow sues security alarm company [SF Chron, San Pablo, Calif.]
  • And another: Nassau County, N.Y. cop injured by drunk driver while on duty is suing the county over Long Island Expressway design and signage [Newsday; Kenneth Baribault]
  • Stop fighting over the $60 million in fees, judge tells feuding lawyers, your lawsuit has been over for four years now [Legal Intelligencer, corrugated paper antitrust class action]
  • Public-health prof: red-light cameras “don’t work” and instead “increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop” [Bruce Schneier via Instapundit]
  • Criminal prosecution of political attack ads? Time to rethink campaign finance law [Bainbridge]
  • Teenagers send each other racy cellphone videos, and then their legal nightmare begins [Des Moines Register]
  • Sounds interesting but haven’t seen a copy: “How To Get Sued: An Instructional Guide” by well-known blawger J. Craig Williams [Giacalone, Ambrogi]
  • Mississippi AG Hood goes after MillerCoors over caffeinated alcohol drinks, but Anheuser-Busch hired Mike Moore and sprang big for DAGA, hmmm [Alan Lange, YallPolitics]

Prosecutors Gone Wild

by Ted Frank on July 25, 2008

[A] large deal of the gleeful Spitzerfreude on Wall Street arose from of the poetic justice of Spitzer’s undoing at the hands of the same extra-judicial tactics he regularly used against Wall Street firms and corporate executives when he was attorney general of New York. The real scandal of Spitzer’s career was not so much the former Girls Gone Wild model as the prosecutors gone wild.

My retrospective of Eliot Spitzer as both archetype and victim of overaggressive prosecutors in the July/August American Spectator is now on line at the AEI website.

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“Wow. Judge Acker found Scruggs and the Rigsby sisters jointly and severally liable for civil contempt and a fine of $65,000 in the Renfroe v. Rigsby case, relating to failure to promptly return the stolen State Farm claims files to Renfroe’s counsel.” Maybe stealing documents isn’t such a good strategy after all? And that’s aside from what the judge said about Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood — which starts with the epithet quoted in the post title, and just gets more stinging from there. (David Rossmiller, Jun. 5; Anita Lee, “Judge fines Scruggs, Rigsby sisters”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Jun. 6; order, opinion PDF). More: U.S. Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine (Hood’s response).

Some developments of the past ten days or so:

* In major blow to defense, Judge Biggers denies motions to suppress wiretap evidence and evidence of similar bad acts [Rossmiller]

* Balducci says he and Patterson got $500K from Scruggs to influence AG Hood to drop indictment of State Farm, motive being to advance civil settlement [Folo]

* WSJ gets into the act with some highlights of wiretap transcripts [edit page; earlier here]

* Sen. Trent Lott says he’s a witness, not a target, of federal investigation [Anita Lee, Biloxi Sun-Herald]

* Scruggs off the hook on Alabama criminal contempt charge [WSJ law blog, Rossmiller, Folo]

* “Mr. Blake has served for many years as a conduit and a layer of separation, if you will, between Mr. Scruggs and other people on sensitive issues.” (Balducci transcript highlights, Folo; more)

* In effort to get Zack Scruggs indictment dismissed, his lawyers dwell on switch from “y’all” to “you” as implying shift in persons addressed from plural to singular [Folo first, second; Rossmiller first, second; on a "sweet potatoes" point, NMC @ Folo and sequel; also]

* DeLaughter/Peters branch of scandal reaches deep into Jackson legal community [Adam Lynch, Jackson Free Press]

* Article in new American Lawyer notes that Scruggs’s ambitious suits have lately hit a big losing streak, notably those against HMOs, nonprofit hospitals and Lehman Brothers [Susan Beck]. And Lotus catches an interestingly lawyerly wording on John Keker’s part [Folo]

* I’m quoted and this site is discussed in an article on blog coverage of the case; my lack of clarity as an interviewee probably accounts for Scruggs being said to have addressed audiences at the Manhattan Institute “a few” times, when if memory serves the correct reference is “twice”. [Patsy Brumfield, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo) @ Folo]

* For more background see our Scandals page; also YallPolitics.

Outsourcing, With a Kicker

by Peter Morin on February 25, 2008

In the state of Mississippi during the last 5 years, 27 law firms have been retained by Mississippi Attorney General James Hood to purse state lawsuits on contingency. Those firms have collectively donated more than a half-million dollars to Hood in the last two election cycles. Apparently, the legislature is troubled by this combination of for-profit motivation and campaign fundraising, and has passed a bill to pursue competitive bidding before signing contracts of more than $500,000 with private lawyers. It also requires a review board to examine contracts, and it limits contingency fees to $1 million.

Hood isn’t pleased — and the WSJ has his number:

Should state Attorneys General be able to outsource their legal work to for-profit tort lawyers, who then funnel a share of their winnings back to the AGs? That’s become a sleazy practice in many states, and it is finally coming under scrutiny — notably in Mississippi, home of Dickie Scruggs, Attorney General Jim Hood, and other legal pillars
This kind of quid pro quo is legal in Mississippi and most other states. However, if this kind of sweetheart arrangement existed between a public official and business interests, you can bet Mr. Hood would be screaming about corruption. . . . A decision to prosecute is an awesome power, and it ought to be motivated by evidence and the law, not by the profit motives of private tort lawyers and the campaign needs of an ambitious Attorney General.”

That leaves a mark.

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Big news day in the Scruggs scandals: a judge has turned down defense motions to throw out the charges and to suppress the evidence, a hearing on those motions has showcased the testimony of government informant Tim Balducci, and the government in responding to the motions has released extensive and often quite damning transcripts of the wiretap conversations among the principals. Folo as usual provides the most in-depth coverage, with posts on the judge’s rulings here and here, on the hearing and Balducci’s testimony here and in numerous preceding posts, and on the wiretap transcripts here and in numerous preceding posts. David Rossmiller is on the judge’s ruling here, and on the hearing and transcripts here. More: Patsy Brumfield, NEMDJ, was at the courthouse.

Picking through the rich contents of the transcripts and Balducci’s testimony is going to keep Scruggsians busy for a good long time. In the meanwhile, some odds and ends:

* Want to review all the major events of the central alleged bribery case, skillfully narrated in chronological sequence? Of course you do. Folo’s NMC has it in six parts beginning here and ending here (follow links to find those in between).

* John Grisham’s “Too Dumb for Dickie” theory encounters some serious strain [Rossmiller and again]

* Mississippi legislature won’t give AG Jim Hood authority to wiretap his enemies suspected white-collar criminals. Gee, wonder why that might be? [WLBT via Lange] Plus: description of Hood as a Pez dispenser coughing out multi-million-dollar cases for his chums [Rossmiller]

* More unpretty details surface on Scruggs’s (and other lawyers) use of informants in Katrina litigation [Rossmiller] and tobacco [Lange]

* More Hood: prosecuting the accused judge-bribers “would be like prosecuting a relative” [Salter, Clarion-Ledger, Rossmiller, Folo]. Give back tainted money? “That’s up to DAGA [Democratic Attorneys General Association]” [Lange]

* Former Louisiana attorney general Richard Ieyoub gets a mention, as does Sen. Trent Lott [Folo, same] Update: feds investigating what Sen. Lott knew [WSJ]

* Small world, Mississippi: member of arbitration panel that awarded Scruggs huge fees was later hired by the tort potentate for legal work [Lange]

* Blogosphere has been a major source for breaking news on the scandal [LegalNewsLine]

* Liberal columnist Bill Minor recalls when a certain Sen. McCain let Dickie Scruggs and Mike Moore run their tobacco lobbying campaign out of his Hill office [NEMDJ via Folo; more at PBS "Frontline" and NY Times]

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David Rossmiller—indispensable for matters Scruggsian—has the details of a Judge Michael Mills’s displeasure with Dickie Scruggs’s refusal to submit to a deposition in State Farm’s lawsuit against state attorney general Jim Hood. Scruggs will likely plead the Fifth Amendment for his interactions with the attorney general—which does not reflect well on that attorney general.

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* Pertinacious Scruggs effort to evade deposition by State Farm attorneys results in “testosterone fiesta” of swaggering counsel (Folo; sequel; YallPolitics; Rossmiller); (P.S. Yes, Ted and I independently noticed and posted on this just minutes apart.)

* Remember when Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood declared his political patron Scruggs a “confidential informant”, thus throwing a most useful cloak of protection over him in his battle against contempt charges? It happens that Scruggs was at almost exactly the same moment donating large sums to the Democratic Attorneys General Association which seem to have passed through like a dose of salts to emerge at the other end as donations to Hood (YallPolitics; earlier on DAGA)

* Attorney Ed Peters, tagged with a pivotal role in Langston-DeLaughter branch of scandal, was formerly high-profile local D.A.; his prosecutorial vendetta against an attorney named J. Keith Shelton comes in for scrutiny in a new series by Folo proprietor Lotus [#5 in series; posts tagged Peters; see also YallPolitics]

* Folo co-blogger NMC, looking into Luckey and Wilson fee disputes (earlier here, here, here), is rattled by the prevalence of hearings-without-notice, ex parte judicial contacts, and other Gothic proceduralisms [Folo];

* Implications or non-implications for civil proceedings of Scruggs’s taking the Fifth [White Collar Crime Prof Blog]

* Adam Cohen of the NYT and Scott Horton of Harper’s claim defendants in precursor Minor-Teel-Whitfield scandal were railroaded on vague charges over not-really-illegal stuff; read pp. 6-9 of the indictment and see whether you agree (YallPolitics);

* For Mississippi, it’s already the most far-reaching corruption scandal in a century, aside from the question of how much bigger it might get [Jackson Clarion-Ledger]

Earlier Scruggs coverage on our scandals page.

As a number of commentators have noted (e.g. Brett Kittredge @ Majority in Mississippi, Alan Lange @ YallPolitics), Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who just entered a guilty plea on charges of judicial corruption, is someone accustomed to throwing the weight of his pocketbook around in Mississippi politics. In particular, he has been among the biggest donors to incumbent Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, even as Hood employed Langston and partner Tim Balducci on contract to handle the controversial MCI tax bill negotiations, with their resulting $14 million legal fees payable to Langston et al, and the potentially very lucrative Zyprexa litigation.

Equally interesting in some ways, however, are Langston’s activities on the national political scene. To take just one example: this CampaignMoney.com listing tabulates the top “527″ contributions to a group called the Democratic Attorneys General Association, whose political and electoral mission is implied by its name. In the listing, two donors are tied for first place, with contributions of $100,000 apiece. One is the large Cincinnati law firm of Waite Schneider Bayless Chesley, associated with one of the country’s best-known plaintiff’s lawyers, Stanley Chesley. The other $100,000 contribution is from Joey Langston.

In presidential politics, Langston has recently been a repeat donor to the quixotic (and, since Iowa, defunct) campaign of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a lawmaker whose high degree of seniority on the Senate Judiciary Committee makes him important to ambitious lawyers whether or not he ever attains the White House. When the Scruggs scandal was still in its early stages, the WSJ law blog (Dec. 10) noted that two key figures in the affair, Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson, were strong backers of the Biden campaign: “Their bet on Biden was that he wouldn’t win the presidency but would become Secretary of State under a Hillary Clinton administration, according to two people familiar with their thinking.” The Journal reprinted (PDF) an invitation to an Aug. 10, 2007 fundraising reception for Biden at the Oxford (Miss.) University Club, sent out above the names of six hosts, three of whom (Scruggs, Balducci and Patterson) were soon indicted. Scruggs, of course, is better known for his support of Mrs. Clinton, a fundraiser for whom he had to cancel after the scandal broke.

Campaign-contributions databases such as OpenSecrets.org and NewsMeat indicate that Langston has been a prolific and generous donor to incumbent and aspiring Senators across the country, mostly Democrats (Murray, Cantwell, Daschle, Nelson, etc.) but also including a number of Republicans who might be perceived as swing votes or reachable, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Me.), and Arlen Specter (Penn.)

Incidentally, some critics have intimated that Langston’s generous support to DAGA, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, should actually be interpreted as a roundabout gift to Hood, who was the beneficiary of interestingly timed largesse from DAGA. It does not appear, however, that any of the parties involved — Langston, Hood or DAGA — have acknowledged any connection between the timing of the donations (& welcome Michelle Malkin, David Rossmiller, YallPolitics readers).

[Second of a two-part post. The first part is here.]

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Now we may have a better idea why prominent Booneville, Miss. lawyer Joseph Langston recently withdrew as counsel for Dickie Scruggs in the widening corruption scandal: per a report by Jerry Mitchell in Sunday’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Langston was himself nabbed on corruption charges, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal authorities. According to the article, Langston’s guilty plea arose from his involvement in one of Scruggs’s many fee disputes with fellow lawyers, this one being the Luckey-Wilson asbestos fee matter (in which Scruggs’ adversaries were Alwyn Luckey and William Roberts Wilson Jr.) Langston will apparently testify that he worked with both Dickie Scruggs and son Zach in an attempt to improperly influence Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who issued rulings favorable to Scruggs in the case. In one memorable detail, the C-L reports that federal authorities have obtained a May 29, 2006, e-mail in which “Zach Scruggs told his father’s attorney in the case, John Jones of Jackson, that ‘you could file briefs on a napkin right now and get it granted.’” Judge DeLaughter has denied any impropriety. (Jerry Mitchell, “Another lawyer pleads guilty”, Jan. 13). Separately, Patsy Brumfield of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, who was first with an unconfirmed report of Langston’s guilty plea, also reports from unnamed sources that federal prosecutors have flipped another of the five indictees in the original scandal, Steven Patterson (partner of informant Tim Balducci), and that documents to be unsealed Monday will clarify other aspects of the status of the case. (“First public clue Patterson has pleaded in Scruggs case”, Jan. 11; “Scruggs updates”, Jan. 12). Discussion: Lotus/folo, Jan. 12, Jan. 13.

The implications are enormous. Among them:

* It looks as if informant Balducci, who formerly practiced law in the Langston law firm, wasn’t kidding when he said he knew where there were “bodies buried“. Information from Balducci likely helped lead the feds to raid the Langston office and seize records documenting the alleged Wilson-Luckey conspiracy.

* Langston is no incidental Scruggs sidekick or henchman; he’s quite a big deal in his own right, with a national reputation in mass tort litigation. He’s been deeply involved in pharmaceutical liability litigation, in tobacco litigation, in litigation against HMOs, and in litigation against non-profit hospitals over alleged violations of their charitable charters, among other areas. Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, the law enforcement officer who has comically been playing potted plant as one after another of his closest political allies have been getting indicted in recent weeks, has employed Langston as lead counsel for the state in both the controversial Eli Lilly Zyprexa litigation and the even more controversial MCI back-tax-bill litigation. Langston also served Scruggs as go-between in the much-discussed funneling of $50 million in tobacco funds to ex-football player P.L. Blake (to whom now-reportedly-flipped Patterson was also close). If the reports that Langston is now cooperating with the feds are accurate, he will presumably be expected to tell what he knows about other episodes. (Langston has also endeavored to provide intellectual leadership for the plaintiff’s bar, as in this Federalist Society panel discussion presentation (PDF) in which he strongly criticizes the work on federalism and state attorneys general of Ted’s AEI colleague Michael Greve).

* Part of Scruggs’s modus operandi, as we know from tobacco and Katrina (among other) episodes, is to arrange to bring down prosecutions and other public enforcement actions on the heads of his litigation opponents. A particularly brutal instance of this crops up in today’s Clarion-Ledger piece, which reports that Scruggs in 2001 took documents obtained in discovery from Wilson, his fee-dispute opponent, and brought them to Hinds County (Jackson) district attorney Ed Peters hoping to instigate a state tax prosecution of Wilson:

Later, one of Wilson’s lawyers met with Peters, and [Wilson attorney Vicki] Slater said Peters told that lawyer that a “high-ranking public official” asked him to prosecute Wilson.

Peters could not be reached for comment.

Wilson did nothing to warrant criminal prosecution, Slater said. “All of this was to help Scruggs in his lawsuit.”

This is the same Dickie Scruggs of whom the New York Times was less than a year ago running moistly admiring profiles quoting common-man admirers of the Oxford, Miss.: lawyer: “good people. … If he tells you something, it’s gospel.”

P.S. It would certainly be interesting to know who that “high-ranking public official” who helped Scruggs in the tax-prosecution matter was, if there was one.

P.P.S. Corrected Monday a.m.: “Langston’s guilty plea was to an information; he waived indictment” (Folo). This post originally described Langston as pleading to an indictment.

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Scruggs indictment IX

by Walter Olson on December 12, 2007

Yes, it seems there were wiretaps. Defendants will be seeing evidence from the prosecution momentarily which might (or might not) be the trigger for further flipping and early plea deals, if such there will be.

There is enormous curiosity (e.g.) about P.L. Blake, to whom Scruggs says he paid $10 million (and tens of millions more in future payments) for vaguely described intelligence services aimed at swaying political influentials during the tobacco caper. Per a 1997 account posted at Y’All Politics, “Blake pleaded ‘no contest’ in 1988 to a federal charge that he conspired to bribe officials of the now-defunct Mississippi Bank to secure favorable loan terms.” The same article, citing reporting in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reports that Blake was in close phone contact between 1994 and 1996 with eventually-disgraced state Auditor Steve Patterson, who after leaving office went into partnership with Timothy Balducci and is one of the five indicted in the current Scruggs affair. Per AP, “Patterson was a banker at Mississippi Bank before his 1984-1987 tenure as head of the Mississippi Democratic Party.”

David Rossmiller, as so often, is out front with a report filling in background on two other controversies involving Blake. One arose from a venture into the grain storage business which landed him in a Texas dispute in which his attorney was none other than Fred Thompson, later a Tennessee senator and presidential candidate. The other arose from his cordial dealings with a former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi).

Harper’s blogger Scott Horton has now published his take, as is his wont heavily dependent on hush-hush (but no doubt wholly trustworthy) confidential sources who float all sorts of theories about scoundrelly doings by the highly placed. He winds up with a theory that would pull Sen. Lott into it (though with no allegation of criminality) by way of the Acker contempt matter, as distinct from either the Balducci/Lackey bribery attempt or, say, the Paul Minor affair. Of Horton’s many anonymously sourced speculations, the one that caught my eye was tucked into a footnote: “A law enforcement official I interviewed, who for professional reasons asked to remain anonymous, told me that Scruggs’s junior partner Sidney Backstrom might take the same road as Balducci.” Now that is news a rumor (more). (Update Tues. evening: Backstrom’s attorney Frank Trapp flatly denies that anything of the sort is in the works: Patsy R. Brumfield, “Backstrom firm on innocence, his attorney says”, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Dec. 12.)

This is probably a good place to apprise readers who aren’t aware of it that 25-odd years ago, while first gaining a footing in the policy world, I worked briefly on Capitol Hill drafting research papers for a committee then headed by Mr. Lott. We only talked a couple of times, I had never set foot in the state of Mississippi at the time, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, but if you’re a conspiracy theorist about such matters, there you have it.

At Y’All Politics, commenter “lawdoctor1960″ has some speculation as to why the remarkable deposition of Scruggs in the Luckey case didn’t get more media or political attention at the time.

Welcome Andrew Sullivan, David Rossmiller, Y’All Politics readers.

Attorney Tim Balducci’s role as deputized lawyer for the state of Mississippi in the MCI and Zyprexa cases is drawing public scrutiny, and may result in pressure for reform of AG outside contracting.

We’ve started a new “Scandals” category for readers who want quick access to coverage of the Mississippi mess, also stocked with some earlier links to coverage of such earlier blow-ups as Milberg Weiss/Lerach, Kentucky fen-phen, the Paul Minor affair, etc. For those who are following Scruggs posts in sequence, be aware that yesterday’s first and second posts fell outside the numbering scheme.

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Scruggs indictment VII

by Walter Olson on December 7, 2007

With the criminal case itself not furnishing many new developments over the past day or two, attention is turning to the question of what the “buried bodies” might be of which Tim Balducci claimed knowledge (and which prosecutors might wish him to sing about), and also to the possibly overlapping topic of Scruggs’s earlier run-ins with lawyers and other professionals over the splitting of fees. (Balducci represented Scruggs in some fee disputes, as did the Jones firm that later sued him over fees.) Also drawing much attention is the question of whether an intensified ethical searchlight will make life hot for the Mississippi political figures who’ve participated most extensively in Scruggs’s litigation campaigns over the years, namely former Attorney General Mike Moore and present AG Jim Hood.

The U.S. Chamber-backed stable of publications that includes Legal NewsLine has been digging into these topics. At the SE Texas Record, Steve Korris relates details of Scruggs’s lengthy and bitter dispute over asbestos fees with attorneys William Roberts Wilson Jr. and Alwyn Luckey, in which Scruggs was represented by John Griffin Jones. Jones’s associate Steve Funderburg in March of this year confronted Scruggs in dramatic fashion in an email over his sense of having been done out of Katrina fees:

“I have looked in the mirror all weekend and tried to figure out how I could be so stupid,” he wrote. “John and I DEFENDED you in fee dispute litigation for God’s sake.”

He wrote, “We DEFENDED you when people said you were greedy, or were a back stabber, or a liar, or anything else.”

He wrote, “You have developed a good routine. It worked. But go to your grave knowing that you have shaken my belief in everything I hold dear.”

He wrote, “I did not believe that people like you really existed. I am ashamed and will always be ashamed of having defended you and protected you.”

See also Y’All Politics for discussion.

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