U.S. District Judge William Acker's behavior regarding the victims of Hurricane Katrina is most curious, and disturbing.
Acker ruled in June that Coast attorney Dickie Scruggs "willfully violated" a Dec. 8 preliminary injunction that required him to deliver "all documents" about State Farm Insurance Co. that whistleblowers Cori and Kerri Rigsby secretly copied after Katrina.
Last month, Acker named two special prosecutors in the case after U.S. Attorney Alice Martin declined to prosecute Scruggs, to whom the whistleblowers had given the documents that allegedly proved State Farm wrongly denied claims. Scruggs, who is suing State Farm, had turned the documents over to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
Acker's insistence in this case seems to defy at least the spirit of federal whistleblower laws and even common sense.
It's perfectly reasonable for Scruggs to have obtained this material, as many south Mississippians have turned to Scruggs for help after their claims were denied or low-balled, including even U.S. Sen. Trent Lott.
Who's doing wrong here? The victims?
If the sisters saw documents that would indicate unfairness or illegality in an insurance company's dealings with victims, it would seem they have a moral obligation to report it to someone.
That's why federal and state whistleblower laws were written, to protect those taking ethical action from retaliation.
To be blunt, even heeding the letter of the law in regard to "theft" of documents, if the papers showed willful disregard for the misery of Katrina victims, would any jury convict them for trying to stop it?
Sometimes, there's justice, and sometimes there's the law. It would appear Acker is pursuing the law at the expense of justice, and the victims of Katrina.
Original Clarion Ledger Opinion published on August 23, 2007.
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