What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Statement by Dick Scruggs, Attorney

$250,000 contribution to Mississippians for Fair Elections

OXFORD, MISS (July 31, 2007)--Today, I am announcing that I have contributed $250,000 to Mississippians for Fair Elections, an organization that was created to raise awareness about the role the Insurance Commissioner plays in the everyday lives of Mississippians.

The amount I have contributed may seem like a lot of money. But, it is nothing in comparison to the millions that insurance companies are refusing to pay to help Mississippians rebuild their homes and businesses or the millions big insurance pays to influence politicians at the expense of homeowners.

Big insurance has its voice in George Dale. Now, it's time for consumers to have a voice. I am donating this money as an advocate for families who continue to be abused by big insurance. That abuse is not limited to the residents of the Coast. Big insurance has proven it will abuse victims of tornados, ice storms, fires and illness with the same arrogance and contempt they have shown to hurricane victims.

I have contributed to this effort because it's past time for us to have an Insurance Commissioner who works for the people instead of the big insurance bosses. George Dale has been coached by big insurance for years on what he should say. He even turns to their lobbyist for free legal help. When you listen to his comments and statements, it sounds like he is reading a script written by big insurance. He consistently parrots their distorted numbers on claims paid. He never mentions the $68 billion in profits they made in 2006 or the hundreds of millions in bonuses paid last year to big insurance CEOs. Instead, he went so far last month as to imply that Katrina put a burden on the insurance industry.

Every word George Dale says probably comes from some speech writer in the Mid-Western headquarters of big insurance. They tell him what to say and how to regulate. Of course they are coaching him now to say he is running against me. But he is not. George Dale is running against Gary Anderson, Mike Chaney and other candidates who want to work for consumers, not the big insurance companies. By attempting to divert attention from the real issues in the race, George Dale is once again running from his record as the voice of big insurance.

For more information, visit on the web
For media inquires, please contact Scruggs Katrina Group at: 662 528 2922
Send emails to:


About the Scruggs Katrina Group

The Scruggs Katrina Group is a legal team consisting of Mississippi attorneys from the following firms: Don Barrett, Marshall H. Smith, Jr. and David McMullan, Jr. of the Barrett Law Office; Richard Scruggs, Sid Backstrom and Zach Scruggs of the Scruggs Law Firm; Dewitt Lovelace of the Lovelace Law Firm; and David Nutt, Mary E. ("Meg") McAlister and Derek Wyatt of Nutt & McAlister, PLLC.

See tv spot here.



For more on Scruggs Katrina Group, you may wish to read the following.

State Farm, Partners, and RICO: What a Racket!

Scruggs Katrina Group File RICO Suit Against State Farm

Additionally, you may wish to read this A.M. in the Morning! series.

Broadening Katrina’s Lens: A five Part Series
Part 1: Broadening Katrina's Lens
Part 2: Recovery’s Two Major Impediments: $$$ and the "F" word
Part 3: The "F" Word: FEMA
Part 4: Katrina’s Bigger Picture
Part 5: Katrina’s Karmic Payback: Insurance Reform

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Over Dale: Commercial by Mississippians for Fair Elections

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A Kid’s Birthday Party Clarifies Post-Katrina Insurance Questions

A Kid’s Birthday Party

by Ana Maria

Saturday afternoon, I attended the birthday party of my friend’s nephew who was turning a whopping six years old. A gathering filled with family, extended family, friends, and, of course, tons of kids busy going up and down that water slide thing-a-ma-jiggy. Those sweet little things had one thing on their minds: having fun playing on the water slide.

Little girls and boys screamed with glee as they slid to the bottom only to giggle as they marched up the plastic stairs that brought them to the top so they could slide to the bottom all over again.

On the grill was fish freshly caught that morning in the water that flowed right by the house. On a table unto itself sat the delicious chocolate cake that required three sttempts for the little boy to blow out his six candles. A buffet of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers with all the trimmings were on the bar next to the stairs that went up to the house itself. From some 20 or so feet away from the kids, I watched . . . the whole time being quite cognizant of the fact that the house had had 24 feet of water in it when Katrina blew through town. The house is built on stilts, and the party festivities were on the ground level in between the stilts.

I’ll guarantee that not a one of those children playing on the water slide had a single thought of Katrina or Katrina-related stress in those glorious joyful moments of fun in the sun. That is how it should be. When the kids throughout the Katrina region are again joyously and consistently playing and laughing and giggling in their own yards, that will be one measure of our recovery’s success. There are other measures, but this is one.

One man's story
The grandfather told me his story. Originally from New Orleans—as are most residents in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss., two of the three tiny beach towns that comprised Katrina’s ground zero., he and his wife built a life in Waveland where they had six kids and built a life with several businesses. For weeks after Katrina, he and his chainsaw hacked through trees to clear up the mess around his home. Being alone in this endeavor—his wife safely in Louisiana, as I recall, he hardly showered or shaved for those weeks. A typical scenario I’m told over and again.
For those weeks, he couldn’t bear the thought of what had become of his life’s work. Finally ready to face it, he showered, shaved, then drove to his businesses. As he topped the railroad tracks, he realized that he could see the Gulf of Mexico three or so blocks away. Nothing remained standing between the railroad tracks and the beach. Not a thing. And he cried for the devastation that had been wrought, for what had been lost, for what will not ever be again.

He had had several chances to sell and retire, but he didn’t want that. The day they left for Dallas, he received a call from his agent. They arranged to meet and sign the deal when they returned. But there was nothing to sell, and the six-figure check had to be returned. I didn’t ask about the insurance. I felt it would have been inappropriate to bring up what is a routinely sore and sour topic when we’re trying to have fun at a kid’s party. A forced retirement, indeed. Though he is now happily retired, I’d bet his insurance didn’t pay what they should have after faithfully paying 35 years of premiums.

This is real life in any town, USA. Kids doing their jobs: being kids, reminding us of what is most important such as eating, watching over loved ones, having a good belly laugh, having fun, and playing fairly in every aspect of life.

Funny how a child’s birthday party can bring into crystal clear perspective the essence of what is at stake in the Mississippi race for insurance commissioner.

A Fair Shake
Ensuring that insurance companies treat families and businesses fairly in the aftermath of a disaster is the job of the insurance commissioner. It matters. Fairness is the difference between having the resources to create a day of good old-fashioned fun for a six year old’s birthday party at home and not having a home in which to celebrate a child’s birthday.

I think that Mississippi’s current insurance commissioner has a peculiar way of defining fairness and justice. As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece titled “Ending Corporate Looting on the Gulf Coast,” State Insurance Commissioner George Dale’s idea of justice is more of an insurance insiders “Just Us” mentality. His idea of being fair is equally disturbing.

We can see for ourselves how the man defines “fairness” through what he does and says without apology. For example, a week after Katrina hit, Dale finally took a helicopter ride over the Katrina damaged Gulf Coast. The following month, an insurance industry magazine published Dale’s response.

“Nothing was there. All you could see standing from the beach inward were maybe a few trees and some markers. Even with that, there would be a building standing out in the middle of all of this. It was eerie.

“People are calling in droves and in e-mails, demanding that I make the insurance companies pay for all of their losses. I’m calling it a Catch-22. If I could make the insurance companies pay under the wind-driven clause, then how many insurance companies would I be breaking? On the other hand, people are living down there with nothing. Either way, I can’t win.”

Whoa. Hold on there, buddy. What do you mean with the comment that “either way, I can’t win?” Is that some Freudian-like slip of the tongue? I’ve got news for you, George. This isn’t about making you a winner. In fact, this isn’t about you at all except in terms of how well you are doing your job on behalf of the insurance consumers. You got that? George, this isn’t about you.

This has always been about the people for whom the position of Insurance Commissioner was created, regular Mississippians whether they live in the Delta or the Northern or the Gulf Coast part of the state.

Over the last few decades, the overwhelming majority of folks who cast their ballots for you were not the corporate fat cats who had funded your campaigns. Rather, they were nurses and teachers, coaches (like you used to be) and electricians, grocery clerks and firefighters, farmers and shipyard workers, retired seniors and administrative staff members.

Gulf Coast resident James “Bud” Ray of Long Beach, Miss., "offers this view of the insurance commissioner."
“We were in a state of total chaos. If he had been out front and put the hammer down initially, I don’t know what the result would have been, but it certainly would have been comforting for us to know that the person we elected as our insurance commissioner was out there beating the drums on our behalf.”
George, this is what handling Katrina’s aftermath has been all about. Leadership would have established in house policyholder advocates to help the thousands of insurance policyholders get their claims filed and approved for the wind damage to their homes and businesses. Instead, George, you let an insurance industry PR hack set up shop inside of your government office. You’re a putz, George. A putz.

Robert Hunter, former Texas insurance commissioner and now a consumer advocate, said
"I certainly can't think of anything he's done that has been pro-consumer. [Dale] hasn't taken leadership in a pro-consumer way . . . He's just there. For a long time, too." To be sure, being hired as a consumer advocate after he leaves office isn’t something for which George Dale would be very well qualified.

Even the Mississippi State Supreme Court has weighed in on the fact that when it comes to fairness for Mississippi’s policyholders, George Dale is as AWOL as his buddy George W. Bush had been during the last two years of his stateside only weekend warrior adventure in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. As other young male military airplane enthusiasts joined their fellow Americans in Vietnam, George W. Bush chose the Texas Air National Guard at a time when the National Guard was always kept stateside. Even with that cushy position, the man abandoned his post. Some would say Bush deserted it.

In a similar way, Dale has long abandoned his post, deserting the people who had elected. An insurance industry publication noted this about Dale.
On more than one occasion, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled in an insurance consumer's favor, agreed with a jury's monetary award to punish the insurance company for bad behavior, then admonished in its opinion: "Once again, this court is called upon to redress grievances which might have been avoided by proper state regulation of insurance company practices."
In yet another example, Dale abandoned his post deserting Mississippi’s policyholders when he deliberately permitted insurance companies to write into their policies that disputed claims have one year to file a lawsuit. Oh really? One year, George? An industry trade magazine states that Mississippi’s law is three years. That’s an additional TWO years to file a lawsuit. What is the legal basis upon which you are allowing insurance companies to deceive Mississippians deliberately? There is no legal basis. You just deceive Mississippians, because you can.

The impact is easy enough to see. A company lowballs its customers. Drags it out beyond 12 months. Then in the middle of the second year or so, the company reminds the customer that their policy states they had 12 months to file for a lawsuit, and well, time’s up! Of course, the unsuspecting policyholder sees the information in black and white and believes that the insurance company is telling theme the truth about their rights. After all, the insurance commission would not permit the companies to lie to us.

They believe the insurance company because clearly no honest and fair insurance commissioner would permit the insurance industry to deceive its policyholders deliberately. George, you have allowed insurance companies to lie to your own constituents, which means that you have betrayed us.

Lastly, George, you push mediation before lawsuits. In a mediation, the deck is stacked in favor of your insurance industry buddies, the ones you allows to set up shop inside of your state office—the office in which you are supposed to be regulating the insurance industry rather than providing office space to them. That would be the same insurance industry buddies you allow to deliberately deceive Mississippi policyholders into believing that they have only 12 months instead of 36 months to file a lawsuit against their insurance company. George Dale, you really are kind of slimy. The more I learn about you, the more I hope that the voters cast their ballots in favor of Gary Anderson.

When it comes to your mediation program, the Insurance Journal states that your program “is not binding and is paid for by the insurers.” So State Farm, Nationwide, Allstate and the like pay for it but are not required to go through with anything they agree on. So, then, what is the point?

Moreover, you apparently do not require the insurance company to disclose all of their evidence. Well, this is another foundation for the racketeering case that the Scruggs Katrina Group has brought against State Farm and its engineering partners. Apparently, these business devised a plan through which to hide from policyholders reports that engineers had filed stating that wind had caused a policyholder’s damage.

The video below is former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore explaining the case in everyday language.

Former Attorney General Mike Moore Explains the RICO Case on WLOX's This Week
Watch the video: Hi-Res Lo-Res

How in the living hell can anyone defend themselves when Insurance Commissioner permits the corporate giants to be deceptive, to keep secretive of evidence that would be in favor of you and me? No one can. That is the beauty of our legal system, which allows trial lawyers to be our legal eyes and ears for us.

Because of the work that the Scruggs Katrina Group has been doing on behalf of Mississippi’s policyholders, we now know that State Farm and partners apparently “actively and fraudulently . . . concealed information and prevented the plaintiffs from obtaining information that could be used in their favor.” This is George Dale’s mediation program. A game of hide and seek with the evidence and the truth. This is not a child's game. We're talking about people's homes and businesses, schools and government buildings like court houses, jails, city halls, police stations, fire stations, etc.

George Dale's mediation program is deceptive, yet still he claims, "This is a good program.”

With insurance companies wrongfully deny paying claims, the consequences have been massive. Parents have no money to rebuild their homes and businesses. Schools cannot afford to construct safe buildings for their students and teachers. Communities ache because too much has been destroyed, and the day of returning to some sense of normalcy seems rather far off to believe a come back is possible in our lifetimes. These are the measures of your failure, George Dale.

You want to play games like hide and seek? Then go to a kid’s birthday party, George, If you observe the kids, you just may get your priorities back in order.

In the meantime, with a lot of smart work and a bit of luck on our side, you’ll have a lot of time on your hands after the August 7th election has Gary Anderson as our next Democratic candidate for Insurance Commissioner. Hopefully, you’ll be singing a new tune on August 8th. Might I suggest you bone up on Happy Birthday?


If you liked A Kid’s Birthday Party Clarifies Post-Katrina Insurance Questions, you may also enjoy the following pieces.

George Dale is a Coward
Ending Corporate Looting on the Gulf Coast

Broadening Katrina’s Lens: A five Part Series
Part 1: Broadening Katrina's Lens
Part 2: Recovery’s Two Major Impediments: $$$ and the “F” word
Part 3: The "F" Word: FEMA
Part 4: Katrina’s Bigger Picture
Part 5: Katrina’s Karmic Payback: Insurance Reform

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Gary Anderson's Radio Spot

Here's a nice radio spot for the Gary Anderson for Insurance Commissioner Campaign.

Gary Anderson Radio Ad Past v Future

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Gary Anderson's Powerful Pocketbook Primary Ad

by Ana Maria

There is great cause for hope. Gary Anderson, an African-American male who got his master's at Ole Miss--the state university that had to be forced to intergrate many decades ago, is on the cusp of winning against George Dale, a good ol' boy who has come to symbolize the corporate greed of the insurance industry he is supposed to regulate.

The Clarion Ledger's Red/Blue Blog just released poll numbers with Anderson leading Dale by 33-28 margin. Clearly with some work from this moment until the polls close August 7th, Anderson can win.

This is positive and uplifting news on a number of planes. First, it is terrific to be able to defeat a man (George Dale) who betrayed the families and businesses that took a beating in Katrina and another at the hands of the insurance industry. Secondly, it is terrific that here in Mississippi where racism has been so central, so prominent in the culture, that an African American man can be within striking distance of this kind of electoral win.

Third, to have a man of integrity--an African American man of integrity who was born, raised, and educated here inside of this state--to come within striking distance of putting the nail in the coffin of greed is a gloriously uplifting event, indeed.

As we move toward all of our numerous political goals, it will do us quite a bit of good to keep our eye on the goal as we move the ball down the field one play at a time understanding what every football player (and fan) understands quite well. Every sweet victory comes with understanding the fundamental nature of the game to be a contact sport. And so it is with politics.

This campaign is an example of where the rubber meets the road, where we can be part of the solution. That is what each of us really seeks--to be part of the solution., to make a difference. You know what to do.

Suiting up to play the game to win includes several options. Contributing a few dollars into Gary Anderson's campaign, volunteering with the campaign--maybe phone banking long distance if he campaign is dong that, and voting for him are all steps that can be taken to be part of a solution to the problem with George Dale's cozy relationship with the insurance industry that has ravaged the coast in ways beyond what Katrina did.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ending Corporate Looting on the Gulf Coast

 Ending Corporate Looting on the Gulf Coast

by Ana Maria

Recently, a man got four years in prison for burglarizing a neighbor’s home to loot it right after Katrina. What kind of jail time will the insurance industries’ corporate cronies get for deliberately contriving to steal the claims money from policyholders in the Katrina-ravaged areas that crossed three states: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama?

Here in Mississippi, we have two state officials responsible for holding these corporate crooks accountable to the people. We have State Attorney General Jim Hood who is doing his job to bring justice to the people of Mississippi, and we’re grateful to him for his strength and fortitude in the face of tremendous pressure to go along to get along—a position of weakness, for sure.

We also have State Insurance Commissioner George Dale, whose idea of justice is more of an insurance insiders “Just Us” mentality.

Dale’s own words portray a man in the back pocket of the insurance industry.

Katrina was “the worst natural disaster in U.S. history . . . and put an undue burden on insurance companies. . . .
Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale

What a lovely sentiment coming from a public official who should be the first defender for us as policyholders. Those words should be put on bill boards, television ads, and radio spots throughout South Mississippi. What a betrayal this man has wrought upon the families and business owners inside Katrina Land.

Of course, it would be unrealistic for us to expect a man who is in the pocket of the insurance industry to be our protector against the industry’s fraudulent practices.

"We take money from anybody who is interested in good government.''
Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale

Who are these folks interested in “good government”?

Miss. Commissioner Dale Raised 40% of Campaign Funds from Insurers
Insurance Journal

And that was in 2006.

Dale: A Democrat? An Independent? A Dino?
Earlier this year, the Mississippi Democratic Party leadership stood up to Dale voting to strip him of the ability to run as a Democrat. Dale had publicly campaigned on behalf of Bush and Cheney in 2004. To fight being prohibited from claiming himself to be a Democrat, Dale hired Greg Copeland, a big time insurance industry lobbyist attorney—and a Republican—to represent him in court.

Simultaneously, Dale’s Republican attorney argued that the Democratic Party MUST allow Dale to run as a Democrat AND that Dale ought to be allowed to run as an Independent because he can’t win as a Democrat. Huh?!

Dale pulled the ultimate Lieberman, as in U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman who ran on the Lieberman Political Party of Connecticut—or some such nonsense—when the Connecticut Democrats voted Ned Lamont as their Democratic nominee last year sending Lieberman packing his bags. Lieberman then started his own political party and accepted help from the Karl Rove wing of the Republican Party. Dale apparently took a page out of Lieberman’s playbook. I’m a Democrat! I’m an Independent! I’m a DINO! (Democrat in Name Only)

Conflicts, Conflicts Everywhere
On its website, Copeland’s law firm brags about its prominence within the insurance industry.

"The firm serves as general counsel to Mississippi's largest property and casualty insurer and as local counsel for numerous other insurance companies. The American Insurance Association selected the head of the firm's insurance practice group to serve as Mississippi counsel for the Association."

Regarding the fact that he was being represented by a big insurance lobbyist attorney, Dale said
I don’t see any conflict.

Apparently, the man is blind. Too bad it is not in the way that Justice is blind.

In another glaring example of Dale’s cozy conflict-of-interest ridden relationship with the insurance industry, he allowed State Farm to pick up the tab for the attorney who was helping Dale’s Deputy Insurance Commissioner Harrell prepare for a deposition in a lawsuit that the Scruggs Katrina Group was bringing against . . . State Farm. Ding! Ding! Ding! By now, alarms should be going off in a major way.

Yes, you read that correctly.

State Farm was paying the attorney fee for the lawyer helping the Mississippi Deputy Insurance Commissioner prepare for his testimony under oath and representing him at the proceedings in one of the large lawsuits that Mississippi policyholders are bringing against . . . State Farm.

Can you believe it?! Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!! But this is really more like a criminal defense team paying the salary of the local prosecuting attorney assigned to its case. What a whopper of a conflict of interest.

Here’s a guide to the deposition and links to the deposition itself. The only reason we found out this horrifyingly awful but important piece of information is because the Scruggs Katrina Group deposed Deputy Commissioner Harrell as part of its ongoing case of Thomas and Pamela McIntosh vs State Farm. The SKG website characterizes the Harrell deposition as “one of the most eye-popping depositions our group has ever seen.” Now that’s saying something.

You know, most of us think of the insurance commission as a consumer advocate, the place where we can turn for real assistance when an insurance company isn’t treating us or our family members fairly. Unfortunately, Dale acts as if his job is to advocate on behalf of the insurance companies.

Are we in good hands with George Dale? Hardly. The man is a walking betrayal of public trust. And in a matter of days, with some effort, George Dale can be sent his walking papers when the voters go to the polls on Tuesday, August 7th.

Like George Dale’s only Democratic opponent Gary Anderson says. "You can't protect the pocketbook of consumers, if you are in the pocketbook of insurance companies."

Indeed, indeed. To bring good old-fashioned, mom and apple pie kind of justice to the people of South Mississippi, we can raise a little political hell! You know what that means. If you are a registered voter inside of Mississippi Vote. Inside or out contribute. Inside or out volunteer.

Turning out for this election to turn out our current insurance commissioner—who thinks he is in the business of carrying water for corporate insurance executives, is the way we stop George Dale’s permissive reign of corporate looting.

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Katrina looter gets 4 years

Neighbor's home was raided day after storm


GULFPORT -- A former Gulfport resident will serve four years in prison for burglarizing and looting a neighbor's home after Hurricane Katrina.

Charles David Dodwell, 40, who later moved to Birmingham, Ala., pleaded guilty to both charges on Friday. Circuit Judge Steve Simpson sentenced him to four years in prison. Simpson also ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine and to serve three years' probation after his release.

Dodwell was living on Windridge Drive when Katrina struck. The next day, the neighbor returned home to discover a break-in and noticed a trail of his belongings leading to Dodwell's back yard, said George Huffman, an assistant district attorney.

"We're not talking about food or anything, " Huffman said. "It was computers, electronics, DVDs and personal items. We're assuming he had to make more than one trip and was carrying so much that he dropped some along the way, leaving a trail."

Windridge is in Orange Grove near Three Rivers and O'Neal roads. Huffman said the stolen items were recovered from locations including Dodwell's residence and a mobile home in Hattiesburg.

Dodwell faced three to 25 years for the burglary conviction. State law sets no minimum penalty for looting, but the maximum is 25 years.

Defense attorney Joe Gautier offered mitigating circumstances, telling the judge that Dodwell was bipolar and under stress, according to Huffman.

"The judge told him a lot of people on the Coast were under stress at the time and not all of them were breaking into people's homes," Huffman said.

Originally published in Sun Herald on July 29, 2007.

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Dale's campaign burdened by Katrina, Democrats flap

RIDGELAND, Miss. -- Hurricane Katrina has nearly knocked the wind out of George Dale's re-election campaign for Mississippi insurance commissioner, a job he's held for 32 years.

Dale is the longest-serving state insurance commissioner in the nation. He's been crisscrossing the state for weeks, trying to win support in what's proven to be his toughest race.

His challenges include a strong opponent in the Aug. 7 Democratic Primary and a bitter dispute with Democrats over his loyalty to the party.

But his biggest albatross may be an advertising campaign financed by attorneys who represent policyholders in lawsuits against the insurance industry over rejected Hurricane Katrina claims.

Had my first election been as different as this one, I never would have run again," Dale said.

Recently, Dale gave a three-minute stump speech at St. Catherine's Village, a retirement community in Ridgeland. It was a candidates' forum and Dale's challenger, Gary Anderson, a former state fiscal officer, didn't attend

"The guy I'm running against is a class act. Gary has run a decent campaign, but I'm actually running to some degree against outside forces," Dale said after his speech. "I'm talking Dickie Scruggs and those lawyers. They run cartoons and they've run ads and everything to try to discredit me statewide."

Scruggs, a high-profile attorney who helped negotiate a multibillion dollar settlement with tobacco companies in the mid-1990s, represents hundreds of homeowners in lawsuits against insurers.

As insurance commissioner, it was Dale's job to referee the fallout from Hurricane Katrina. On Aug. 29, 2005, the killer hurricane's storm surge devastated the Gulf Coast, destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

After property owners scurried to recoup their losses from insurance policies, many of them learned that their coverage didn't include the flooding caused by Katrina.

In addition, many of the state's insurance providers raised their policy premiums. At least one, State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., the state's largest homeowner insurer, suspended writing new homeowner and commercial policies statewide.

Criticism was leveled at Dale, accused by some of favoring the insurance companies in payoff disputes with storm victims and by others of failing to force insurers to hold down their rates."

Anytime someone does not get their claim paid, they're unhappy and accuse you of being on the side of the insurance company. It's nothing new. That goes on when there's not an election," Dale said.

But then Dale found himself at odds with the Scruggs law firm.

Scruggs has been critical of a mediation program sponsored by Dale's office that allows homeowners to negotiate settlements with their insurers without resorting to litigation.

Scruggs has said the program "has no teeth in it."

And, months after Scruggs' legal team withdrew support for a January deal that called for State Farm to pay at least $50 million to some 35,000 policyholders, the insurer reached a separate but similar agreement with Dale.

The Scruggs Katrina Group has run a series of television and newspaper ads critical of the insurance industry and unflattering to Dale. Zach Scruggs, the son of Dickie Scruggs and a member of the firm, described the ads as educational.

Still, one newspaper ad depicted Dale as a pig being covered in pink lipstick by State Farm executives. The caption read: "Lipstick On A Pig."

"George Dale is obviously a big part of the problem on the Gulf Coast, and in Mississippi in general, because he's the one that fills in the amount that every Mississippian has to pay for insurance," Zach Scruggs said. "The fact that it is an election year doesn't change the fact that we have an insurance crisis in Mississippi."

Dale, 66, said many voters don't understand the limitations of his powers and the complexities of his job.

His duties include regulating the insurance industry, licensing manufacturers and dealers of mobile homes, serving as state fire marshal and chairman of the State Fire Academy. He's been on the job since January 1976.

He said most of his time is now devoted to settling the remaining Katrina claims and ensuring that insurance companies continue to provide coverage in the state at the lowest possible rates. He said two providers _ Shelter Insurance Co. and Allstate Insurance Co. _ have reduced their rates in certain areas of north Mississippi.

"You can't overlook the fact that this is the largest natural disasters in the history of the U.S.," Dale said, adding that 99 percent of the claims have been settled.

However, Zach Scruggs said the term "settled" could mean closed, but not necessarily paid. Scruggs said many of his firm's clients were lumped into the settled category. So far, he said the firm has won more than $200 million for 1,200 clients.

Dale, a former high school principal who served as an assistant to then-Gov. Bill Waller, retains the respect of his peers for his fairness, said National Association of Insurance Commissioners president Ragan Ingram. The Alabama insurance commissioner explained that the role of insurance commissioner always becomes more difficult after a natural disaster.

"There must be some reason that the people of Mississippi have elected him to office eight different times," Ingram said.

Earlier this year, Dale was embroiled in another controversy over his re-election bid. The state Democratic Executive Committee sought to remove him from the party ballot.

Committee members argued that Dale shouldn't run under the party label because he publicly supported President Bush for re-election in 2004. In May, a Calhoun County circuit judge reversed the decision and put Dale back on the Aug. 7 primary ballot.

"It was going to be a tough election for him regardless ... but that added to the question of 'What's up with George Dale?'" said Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute for Government at Mississippi State University.

Dale's Democratic challenger also paints him as being too cozy with the insurance industry. Anderson, who oversaw Mississippi's $10 billion budget as state fiscal officer between 2000 and 2003, points to campaign contributions Dale has received from industry insiders.

"It's a pocketbook race. How can you look out for the consumers when you're in the back pocket of the insurance company?" asked Anderson, who has said he will not accept any contributions from the industry.

Dale has more than twice the amount of campaign cash as Anderson, and he defended contributions from local insurance agents, saying they want to elect someone who will fairly regulate them.

If Dale is successful in the primary, he still faces a Republican in November. The Republicans running for insurance commissioner are state Sen. Mike Chaney, of Vicksburg, and Ronnie D. English, of Vancleave.

Before leaving the retirement community, Dale asks two women for their votes.

"I've seen your picture on television," one woman said.

"I hope so," Dale said. "I paid enough to get on there."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Published by KATC-TV Mobile, Alabama

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Drugs, lack of jail hover over Hancock


HANCOCK COUNTY -- The three men who want to be sheriff here all identify the same major problems facing the county, as it still struggles to emerge from under a post-hurricane cloud.

The troubling lack of a county jail and a growing drug problem top the list for Sheriff Steve Garber and challengers Terry Necaise and Nathan "Corky" Hoda. Since none of the candidates is running as a Republican, one of them must get at least 50 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff. If that doesn't happen, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters in the primary.

The jail issue comes first, they say: Hurricane Katrina extensively damaged the county jail on Court Street in Bay St. Louis. Nearly two years later, county supervisors are still at a stalemate with FEMA over federal funding for a new lockup.

"We have to get some type of facility going," said Garber, who is seeking a third term as sheriff. Hancock County is paying Pearl River County $30 per day for each male prisoner being housed there, and now the Pearl River County jail itself is overcrowded. Depending upon the severity of their sentences, female prisoners are being sent to jails as far away as Natchez.

Hoda, a former longtime sheriff's deputy and narcotics investigator, said: "The number one thing would be the jail. We have to get something done about that. The county is spending a fortune to pay for sending our prisoners to other jails."

"Nothing is being done," said Necaise, a constable and former reserve police officer. Figure in high gasoline costs and the loss of sheriff's personnel from the county during prisoner transports, and the cost rises even more, he said.

Not the sheriff's solution

But the political reality is that even though the sheriff runs the jail - if there were one - it's up to county supervisors to find a solution. Supervisors recently approved a contract for a prison design and building firm to examine the damaged jail and make recommendations.

Meanwhile, at last report, FEMA officials were still saying damage was not so extensive that the old jail can't be repaired, instead of completely replaced. The county must reach some agreement with FEMA.

"That's a decision the supervisors have to make, and we're working with them," Garber said.

Hoda thinks the county needs to push harder. Necaise agrees, and said he would urge Bay St. Louis and Waveland to also get involved in the struggle, since their arrests contribute to the jail population.

"Some form of decision needs to be made," he said. "There has to be a compromise some place. I think all parties have to sit down in a meeting and work this thing out until something comes together."

$72,000 a year

The office of sheriff is a powerful and well-paid position, with a salary that is set by state law and hinged to population figures. In Hancock County, where the estimated median income was $37,009 in 2005, the sheriff is paid $72,000 a year.

All three candidates bring various degrees of law enforcement and emergency service experience to the race.

Garber began his career as a deputy sheriff in 1985, serving in various capacities. In addition, he was a Hancock County constable from 1992 to 1996 and also worked as an administrator at the Waveland Fire Department. He was elected sheriff in 2000 and won re-election in 2004.

Hoda began in 1979 as a junior deputy in Hancock County. He eventually became a patrol sergeant and also worked in officer training. He was later named the department's lead narcotics investigator, in addition to working fatality traffic accidents and serving with the dive rescue team. He left the Sheriff's Department in 2000 and now owns a construction business.

Necaise is a Hancock County constable and teaches Naval ROTC at Brother Martin High School in New Orleans. He retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer. He went through reserve officer training with Garber's department and said he has also been a reserve state trooper in Florida and completed training at the Kissimmee Police Academy.

Fighting the drug problem

The candidates say drug use, particularly with crack cocaine and methamphetamine, is nearing epidemic proportions in the county. The Sheriff's Department regularly arrests low-level dealers and busts home-style meth labs, often in rural areas.

"We're a leader in drug enforcement in the state," Garber said. He said his department has also been establishing anti-drug awareness programs through schools, churches and community groups, but more needs to be done.

"We've shown that we can arrest," he said. "The problem now is we need to reach these people before they get on these drugs."

Both Hoda and Necaise acknowledge the severity of the drug problem. But as a former narcotics officer, Hoda takes an especially strong stand on the issue.

"It's outrageous right now," he said. "It's like a cancer eating away at this place. It's everywhere."

He thinks the Sheriff's Department should do more by seeking more anti-drug assistance from outside agencies: "We've got to have the state and federal levels more involved."

However, stepping up drug enforcement becomes even more difficult if the county has no place to put its felony prisoners.

"It is a 96-mile round trip from the facility on Longfellow to the Pearl River County jail," Necaise said. Even if a decision on the jail were made tomorrow, he said, "we're still looking at 2½ to three years before we see the inside of a criminal justice facility."

Original article published in Sun Herald on July 29, 2007.

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Insurance is hottest seat in the state


-- The Democratic and Republican opponents of Insurance Commissioner George Dale say change is long overdue, but Dale says his 32 years' experience is what Mississippi needs at a critical time.

"We're pretty well stressing the fact that this is a very delicate time dealing with consumer and property insurance in this state," Dale said in a recent interview. "We feel like this office can be better served by someone who has experience."

His Democratic opponent, Gary Anderson, along with Republicans Mike Chaney and Ronnie English, believe Dale's experience has drawn him too close to the industry he regulates. They advocate a more consumer-friendly approach at a time when Katrina, the nation's costliest disaster, has exposed flaws with public and private insurance coverage.

"Mr. Dale has just not done anything over the years to try to protect the taxpayers," English said.

All three opponents say they have refused to accept campaign contributions from insurance companies, which Dale does.

"I want to establish a business relationship with insurance companies, not a cozy relationship where I'm taking money from them," said Anderson, a lobbyist and member of former Gov. Ray Mabus' administration.

State Sen. Mike Chaney believes Mississippi's insurance commissioner should be appointed, which is the case in most states. "The reason is real simple," Chaney said, "I don't know how many people can take dollars from the insurance companies every four years to run for this position and still be impartial in their judgment in regulation of the companies."

All four candidates agree the next insurance commissioner needs to work on the affordability and availability of insurance. Dale's opponents also say they want to find more funding for rural fire protection.

The insurance commissioner is charged with licensing and regulating insurers. He also serves as state fire marshal, and licenses and regulates burial associations, motor clubs, bail bondsmen, and mobile home manufacturers and dealers.

Anderson faces Dale in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary. Chaney, a Vicksburg developer and businessman, will square off against English, a Northrop Grumman fire marshal from Vancleave, in the Republican primary. Winners advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Dale vs. Anderson

It's easy to say you want to lower insurance rates and improve the market, Dale said, but not so easy to do.

Predictability is one thing insurance companies must have, he said, pointing out that his philosophy and personality are familiar to the industry.

"The philosophy is that I attempt to be fair," he said, " be aggressive in helping the consumer, but at the same time fair with the companies. I try to walk that thin line between the consumer and the companies, which is a difficult line to walk."

Dale believes he can persuade insurers to return to the Coast with wind coverage, available for many property owners only through the state wind pool, the insurer of last resort.

Unlike other candidates, Dale is not promising lower rates, but said more competition in the market should help.

"A lot of people have a misconception that we just pull rates out of the air," he said. "Rates have to be actuarially sound. They're based on experience and we have some control, but at the same time we have no control over what causes these rates.

"The very trite and smart-aleck answer would be you could reduce rates on the Coast if we had fewer hurricanes."

Anderson also sees the cost of insurance as one of the most pressing issues in 2007 and believes competition is the answer. Anderson said a vibrant economy is a major selling point that will allow him to market Mississippi to insurance companies.

"We've got to create an environment where there is more competition within the insurance industry and then we'll also have lower insurance premiums," Anderson said. "The cost of insurance is out of reach for many households, so we need to make sure we do the things that make it become more affordable in our state."

Anderson also promises to expand fraud detection, especially because pitchmen are selling elderly Mississippians supplemental Medicare plans that actually replace their coverage at higher prices.

He also wants to require insurers to offer discounts for those who meet stronger building codes and said he will study a stronger policyholder bill of rights, but is not making any promises.

"I would want to study those things that are consumer friendly and make sense from an industry standpoint," he said. "I'm not prone to knee-jerk reactions."

Chaney vs. English

Chaney, a legislator since 1993, believes consumers should be able to track an insurance company's claims payment record on the Mississippi Department of Insurance Web site: He said the department should rank insurance companies based on the number of claims filed and paid.

He also supports a stronger policyholder's bill of rights. A bill of rights Dale put into place provides homeowners a checklist of what their insurance policy covers and lists rights to which policyholders already are entitled.

In the Legislature, Chaney worked for approval of stronger building codes and for a program that will allow the state wind pool to reduce rates for those who build to stronger standards. He also says he would work with other states that face similar insurance issues to form a coalition that would be in a better bargaining position than Mississippi alone.

Chaney also believes insurance companies should be required to offer homeowner and commercial property policies if they want to sell automobile policies here.

He hopes to lower fire insurance ratings through better training and would seek federal funding sources.

"Whether I win or lose in this race," he said, "I've already made a difference."

English jumped into the insurance commissioner's race because of the problems he saw after Katrina.

"We have to hold these insurance companies accountable," he said. He believes insurance companies were too eager to write off damage to storm surge covered by federal flood insurance rather than wind damage the companies have to pay.

"The wind beat for hours on these structures even before the water got here," he said, "but yet these insurance companies want to lay everything off on water."

He also believes insurers should be required to assume more risk if they want to sell policies for lower risks.

He doesn't like having a state wind pool. "Really, I think an insurance company should be covering the wind damage and I don't think the taxpayers should be picking it up," he said, pointing to industry profits even with major disasters in 2004 and 2005.

"They're putting profit ahead of paying these claims," English said, "and I don't think it's right."

He also thinks tax dollars should be spent to provide better equipment and more funding for fire departments.


Meet the candidates.
Four candidates are running for state insurance commissioner. They are:

• Democrats
Gary Anderson of Jackson

Current occupation: Governmental relations, financial analysis and economic development consultant, The Anderson Co., LLC., 1997 to present.

Highest educational degree: Master's degree, University of Mississippi, 1980.

Personal: 51 years old, married.

Why I'm running: "I am running for insurance commissioner because I want to bring a fair deal to Mississippi's insurance ratepayers. As the next insurance commissioner, I will work to stabilize the insurance market and increase competition so we can lower insurance premiums; I will be independent of insurance companies and I will fight for everyday families who insurance rate increases hurt the most."

George Dale of Clinton

Current occupation: Commissioner of Insurance, 1975 to present.

Highest educational degree: Master's degree, Mississippi College.

Personal: Married, five children.

Why I'm running: "For the past 32 years, I have dedicated my life to making sure Mississippi has a viable insurance market. In this time of complex issues, Mississippians need and deserve someone who can help guide them through a very fragile insurance market with the experience and patience that I bring to the office of Commissioner of Insurance."

Mike Chaney of Vicksburg

Current occupation: District 23 state senator, 2000 to present.

Highest educational degree: Bachelor's degree in business-marketing-finance, Mississippi State University, 1966.

Personal: Married, three children.

Why I'm running: "I am running to ensure that all Mississippians have available and affordable insurance and that they received fair treatment from the insurance companies that take their premiums. I will be an advocate for the 2.9 million plus citizens of Mississippi and not any special interest group."

Ronnie D. English of Vancleave

Current occupation: Fire marshal.

Highest educational degree: Attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Personal: 63 years old, married, one child.

Why I'm running: "I am running to give the citizens of Mississippi an insurance commissioner that is not controlled or obligated by the insurance industry in Mississippi."

Original article in Sun Herald published July 29, 2007.

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Man burned in FEMA trailer fire

Neighbors said they heard an explosion

Posted on Sun, Jul. 29, 2007

BILOXI -- A FEMA trailer fire on Motsie Road Saturday caused one heavily burned man to be airlifted to Mobile after the blaze, which destroyed the home.

The fire at the trailer park happened about 8 p.m. after neighbors reported hearing an explosion, said Biloxi's Deputy Fire Chief Kirk Noffsinger. He said one man was severely burned and sent to Mobile, while another suffered illness related to smoke inhalation.

The fire burned very quickly, which is typical of FEMA trailers, Noffsinger said.

"They are a concern," he said. "We're hoping that soon most of these people will get out and be back in their regular residence."
He said the fire was intense, and it threatened two other trailers and also one vehicle, but firefighters were able to contain the flames.

He said Saturday it was hard to tell if there actually was an explosion there, and the cause of the fire was unknown. The case is still under investigation.

Original article printed in Sun Herald.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mark Fiore Cartoon: Pickling the Poor (FEMA)

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Pickling by Mark Fiore


Mark Fiore is a San Francisco cartoonist and animator whose work also appears in the Washington Post, L.A. Times and other publications.

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House panel votes to add wind coverage

by Sean Reilly
Mobile Press Register Washington Bureau
Original article published on July 27, 2007.

WASHINGTON -- The House Financial Services Committee agreed Thursday to add optional wind coverage to the National Flood Insurance Program, brushing aside objections that such a major step needed more study.

The bill by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., would also increase overall coverage limits, phase out subsidized flood insurance rates for businesses and vacation homes, and authorize spending up to $400 million annually for the next five years to pay for flood map updates.

The subsidized rates generally apply to structures built before the early 1970s. For vacation homes in that category, the bill would allow flood insurance administrators to raise rates by 25 percent annually until the full risk-based premium is reached. For subsidized business structures, rate increases of 20 percent annually would be permitted.

In voting 38-29 to send the bill to the full House, the committee broke largely along party lines, with Democrats solidly in support and most Republicans opposed. In arguing for the addition of wind coverage, Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., pointed to the wave of "wind" vs. "water" disputes that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

For full discussion of the famed "wind vs water" argument, see Wind? Water? More Like a Bunch of Hot Air!

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Worries Permitted

Early construction at a home at the intersection of Division St. and Collier St. in Biloxi on Thursday.


Early construction at a home at the intersection of Division St. and Collier St. in Biloxi on Thursday.

Posted on Fri, Jul. 27, 2007


-- It's been a good quarter for several industries, but some of South Mississippi's prominent business leaders are worried Katrina recovery is starting to drag and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are slipping away.

Concerns that confusion and delays surrounding the building-permitting process may be scaring developers away was a top issue for members of the Sun Herald's Business Roundtable at its quarterly meeting Thursday. Insurance remains an "800-pound gorilla," freezing many projects in place while developers wait to see if costs will come down.

"The situation is different in some cities and counties as opposed to others, but generally speaking, cities and counties Coastwide are still overwhelmed in their inspection departments in handling the volume of commercial and residential planning-review jobs that have come in," said Brian Sanderson, president of the Gulf Coast Business Council.

Sanderson said of the $5 million in grants allocated to help permitting and inspection offices, only 12 percent had been drawn. The council wants to help municipalities make use of this money. It also plans to request an additional $5 million for 48 third-party inspectors and plan reviewers overseen by Gulf Regional Planning Commission to assist the municipalities.

Roundtable members agreed the perceived difficulty in the permitting process of some municipalities is causing developers to re-think investments in the Gulf Coast.

"The two things that run developers off the quickest are inconsistency and unreliability," said Brooks Holstein of Comvest Properties. "If they walk into a city and there is no accessibility and no consistency, they say, 'Life is too short.'

Some municipalities appear to move through the process more efficiently.

"We permitted a Ruby Tuesday in Moss Point in two weeks," said Holstein.

He said getting a permit shouldn't be complex.

"It is simply a decision made by the political leadership," he said. "We have SmartCode to ensure responsible, high-quality development, the International (Building) Code is going to make sure it is built to specifications, you have a stamped set of plans from an architect who is not going to risk his license to build an unstable building and in order to get insurance we have to build a building that will take 150-mph winds."

Pascagoula City Manager Kay Kell said permitting in Jackson County has been streamlined through regular meetings of mayors, city managers and the county administrator.

"We had the same issues that came up and drafted the same ordinances," said Kell, who has offered Pascagoula's building official to help other communities.

"Pascagoula is so much further ahead in recovery, we are willing to be the pilot. We will go out and teach what is working there to other communities," said Kell.

More than a dozen homeowners and builders have complained to the Sun Herald about inefficiency in the permitting and inspection process in municipalities in Hancock and Harrison counties since Hurricane Katrina. None wanted to go on the record with their complaints because they said they feared more delays on their projects.

Community development director Jerry Creel said there is no backlog in Biloxi.

"We are adequately staffed for the construction that has been permitted," said Creel, though he does anticipate an increased need in the future.

Many of the delays in the permitting process are caused by builders or developers not submitting all the required information, said Creel. Unless there are special circumstances that would trigger a public hearing, development permits are issued in 10 to 30 days, he said.

For residential rebuilds, most permits are issued in 10 days, said Creel.

"We really look at three things: Does the site plan comply with the land-development ordinance; do building plans comply with the building codes; and are the contractors who are going to be doing the work licensed to do the work," said Creel.

If the answer is yes to all three questions, the builder should have no problem getting a permit, he said.

Sandy Hill of Gulfport's building and permitting department said she also sees many delays caused by incomplete applications.

"We like to have a turnaround of three days for residential and 10 days for commercial," said Hill. "We like to respond in that time period, but if there is a need for additional comments it goes back to the developer and we have to wait for their response. We can't control the response time back from the developers and contractors."

Hill said the number of applications received has gone from 870 a month before Katrina to 1,500 a month, though the department still has the same number of employees.

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.
Original posted at Sun Herald.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Federal plan would cover windstorms

A House panel OK'd expanding an insurance program to cover wind damage -- which could bring comfort to Florida residents -- but the plan has Republican critics.
(Miami Herald version)
Original published on July 27, 2007.

WASHINGTON --A bill beginning to move through the U.S. House could dramatically change the way windstorm insurance is sold in Florida and other hurricane-prone coastal states.

The House Financial Services Committee voted 38-29 on Thursday to expand the national flood insurance program to cover wind damage. Other proposals floating around Washington would create national catastrophe funds to cover many perils, but this one is focused squarely on hurricane risk.

To be sure, the bill faces stiff opposition ahead -- particularly from Republicans. It could get a floor vote when the House returns from recess in September and, if it passes, would have to prevail in the Senate and get past the White House.
Committee member U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, said he supports the legislation and thinks it would help ease the state's windstorm woes but would not completely solve the insurance crisis.

''This could provide some relief for some people, but I still think we need to take additional steps to reduce insurance costs,'' Klein said.

Read the Miami Herald article.

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With Katrina's Wind at Our Backs, We're Blowing Through Congress!!

With Katrina’s Wind at Our Back, We Blow Through Congress
by Ana Maria

With a force seemingly more powerful than that of Katrina herself, the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee passed the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007 keeping in tact the Multiple Peril Insurance Act that had recently been attached to it. In every day language, this means that the Democratically-controlled Congress just took a major step forward in protecting the 55% of Americans who live within 50 miles of the nation’s beautiful coastline. Score one for American families and businesses!

This began nearly two years ago with the insurance companies apparently devising a scheme though which to rip off Mr. and Ms. Home or Business Owners who had just been through the nightmarish Hurricane Katrina with her 22 tornadoes and winds at landfall that were at least 135 miles per hour. Katrina's winds beat down residences and businesses for up to three to four hours. Insurance companies like State Farm, Nationwide, and Allstate directed their agents that if so much as a smidgen of water were on the property to blame all the sustained damage on water.

Those directives and the subsequent documentation on how they were carried out are the foundation for the racketeering (RICO) lawsuit that the Scruggs Katrina Group filed against State Farm and its two corporate partners. [See State Farm, Partners, and RICO: What a Racket! It's another piece I did. You'll love it.]

ABC News was able to obtain a copy from State Farm files of the original FAEC [Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corp.] damage report, which included the image of an attached "Post-it" note that read, "Put in wind file - do not pay bill - do not discuss"

Image at ABC's The Blotter.

The agents for the federal government’s flood insurance program were the very same agents for State Farm, Nationwide, and Allstate and the like. Insurance companies handed down their directives: Do the paper work shuffle, leave your conscience at the door that Katrina blew away, and deliver the bad news to Mr. and Ms Home or Business Owners.

Routinely, the news went something like this.

Mr. and Ms. Homeowner, your wind policy on your homeowner’s insurance won’t pay for any damage. We want to keep to ourselves the $108 billion in profits our industry will make in 2005 and 2006. We have faith that you’ll be ok in spite of our reckless, selfish, irresponsible behavior. We’re greedy bastards who show up religiously at church. We’ll be praying for ya! Do I hear an amen! God bless.
Well, we have been blessed. We have Gulf Coast Representative Gene Taylor (D-MS), a heroic congressman who lost everything in Katrina, whose insurance company screwed over him and his family with failing to pay a penny before resorting to a lawsuit, whose own constituents were experiencing the same level of anguish that he and his family were experiencing.

We are blessed because Congressman Gene Taylor pulled out from the depths of his soul an indefatigable strength to carry on personally and professionally to champion this cause to ensure that America’s families and businesses all over the country never again are exposed to the ravages of corporate greed that has become so apparent in our nation’s insurance industry. To that I say Amen!

President Bill Clinton said something along these lines, “There isn’t anything wrong with America that can’t be made better by what’s right with America.” What is happening with this insurance reform bill is a fantastic example of Clinton’s wise words.

We are blessed because down here in Katrina Land, we reflect the rich tapestry that makes our nation envied the world over. We are of African, European, and Asian descent. We come from Central and South America. Our music is lively and soulful. Our food is hot, strong, and spicy. Our determination to persevere is strong.

To achieve the justice that every home and business owner in America requires in the aftermath of a natural disaster will require that all of us remain determined to persevere through the laborious and slow legislative process that is our form our government.

We can achieve this. The first step is to believe we deserve it. We do deserve it, and now we must embrace that very idea. The second is to believe that it is possible. We have proof that it is. The vote in subcommittee last week—along party lines, I might add, and the vote yesterday—again along party lines with a few conscientious Republicans joining the leadership of every Democrat on the committee. We have achieved step two.

The next step is to take concerted steps in the direction of this legislative dream. You know what that means! It’s political hell raising time. Woohoo! The very next vote will be in the entire chamber of the House of Representatives. It could be as soon as next week before the congress breaks for its August recess. We can say that to achieve our political dreams, we must engage in a bit of political hell raising. What fun!

In the aftermath of Katrina, with the malice of forethought the insurance industry engaged in deceptive practices intent to steal from American home and business owners the benefits that they had paid to have. Through our own political hell raising, we can end the deceptive financial charade of the insurance industry.

We must contact our own congressional representatives and let him or her know that we support the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007 ESPECIALLY because it includes the Multiple Peril Insurance Act which protects America’s families and businesses.

Sharing our perspective on this critical matter is how we protect our families through expanding the flood insurance program to include wind coverage. Sharing our perspective is how we put a gust of powerful wind under our political sails—and sail into the next round of legislative victories for ourselves, our families, and our businesses.

[Here are political hell raising email and phone activities.]

If you enjoyed this, you may also wish to read . . .
Bookies, Pimps, and Insurance Companies.
Commercial insurance rates will crush small businesses

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Flood program expansion approved by House panel


WASHINGTON -- The House Financial Services Committee voted Thursday to make a dramatic change in federal disaster insurance by expanding the national flood insurance program to cover wind damage.

The 38-29 vote, largely along party lines, in favor of the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007 was spurred by a pledge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made after Hurricane Katrina to the coastal communities of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Pelosi will lead a bipartisan delegation to the region in mid-August before the second anniversary of the hurricane, appearing at Bay St. Louis' Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church on Aug. 13.

The vote is a personal victory for Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, who lost his home in Katrina. Taylor has made it a crusade to explain to members how the current system creates a shortfall with private insurance companies covering wind damage and the federal government covering water, resulting in a bias by insurers who administer the flood program to label all damage "water."

"This really helps people in all coastal areas," said Taylor, noting residents in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Maine and New York would be able to purchase the expanded coverage, as well as in his home state of Mississippi. "Fifty percent of all Americans live in coastal areas."

Under the committee-approved bill, policyholders of the flood insurance program would be able to purchase wind insurance policies as well. The policies would not be available for those seeking exclusively wind coverage.

The multiple-peril residential policy limit would be set at $500,000 for the structure and $150,000 for contents. The bill increases the maximum coverage for flood insurance policies from $250,000 to $335,000 for residences.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the expanded program would pay for itself through actuarially determined premiums. "What does it cost (taxpayers)? Nothing," said Frank. "It is revenue neutral." He said the bill was necessary because "in the Gulf situation, it was difficult to tell, if not impossible, wind damage."

The legislation encountered stiff resistance from Republicans who said it exposed the federal government to steep liability at a time when the insurance fund was essentially bankrupt. Insurers and consumer groups are opposed to the expansion, warning losses will dramatically increase as claims rise.

"I am not ready to support shifting the burden of wind damage to a plan that is nearly $18 billion in the red," said Rep. Spencer Bacchus, R-Ala., the committee's ranking Republican. The flood insurance program had to borrow $17.5 billion more than it took in because of Katrina-Rita claims.

The legislation makes reforms in the program, increases premiums, phases out subsidized rates paid by vacation-home owners and raises the borrowing authority.

Republican members offered several amendments stripping or delaying the wind provision from the bill, but they were defeated. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who opposed the addition of wind coverage until Congress studies the issue further, complained the controversy could sink the legislation.

"This is really adding a poison pill to flood insurance reform bill," said Biggert. Frank acknowledged the bill was controversial but said it would be ready for a floor vote in September.
Taylor predicted the bill would pass on the House floor and hopes in the Senate he can turn to Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., who also lost his home to Katrina
Democrats, led by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chair of the panel's housing and community opportunity subcommittee, recently attached the language from Taylor's bill on "multiple perils" to the flood insurance reauthorization bill.

But Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, questioned whether the plan would stay budget-neutral. "I know from experience that these designs don't always work out the way they're supposed to." He said, "I'm still not convinced the private insurance market won't work."

Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., countered that the post-Katrina insurance response "was a massive failure of the private sector. There are still people down there who haven't been paid."

Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007 Here are the key features of H.R. 3121:

  • Increases the amount FEMA can raise policy rates in any given year from 10 percent to 15 percent.
  • Extends multiple-peril policies for wind damage where local governments agree to adopt and enforce building codes and standards designed to minimize wind damage.
  • Allows any community participating in the flood insurance program to opt in to the multiple-peril option. The multiple-peril residential-policy limit is $500,000 for the structure and $150,000 for contents. Nonresidential properties could be covered to $1 million for structure and $750,000 for contents and business interruption.
  • Increases the maximum coverage limits for flood insurance policies. New coverage limits would be $335,000 for residences, $135,000 for residential contents, and $670,000 for businesses and churches.
  • Phases in actuarial rates for vacation homes and nonresidential properties beginning Jan. 1, 2011.


Original article at Sun Herald published July 27, 2007.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Commercial insurance rates will crush small businesses

Letter to the Editor

Your article of July 18 hit the nail squarely on the head.

For my small enterprise, a 300 percent increase in rates just passed across my desk. And it gets better. Due to the age of my office structure, I was forced into the wind pool, despite my loyal payments and minimal Katrina damage. No more fence insurance available either, unless I resort to the pool at much higher rates. The sad part is that I can't afford enough coverage for total replacement.

This stings. It will hurt my business, my employees, and - when compounded by the fact that every other small business is facing the same hurdle - it will hurt South Mississippi.

In the words of Congressman Gene Taylor: "People who played by the rules and expected insurance companies to play by the same rules got screwed."


Published in Sun Herald on July 26, 2007.

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U.S. attorney takes no action against Scruggs

District judge determined to prosecute for contempt
Posted on Thu, Jul. 26, 2007

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --The U.S. attorney in Birmingham on Wednesday declined a federal judge's request to prosecute prominent Mississippi attorney Richard F. "Dickie" Scruggs and his law firm for criminal contempt in a Hurricane Katrina insurance dispute.

U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said in the letter to U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. "following a serious and thorough review of the facts surrounding this indirect criminal contempt, I respectfully decline to prosecute Mr. Scruggs or his firm."

In his June 15 request, Acker said he would appoint another attorney to handle the prosecution if Martin declined the court's request.

Acker's office did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Martin's office, Jill Ellis, said the U.S. attorney had no further comment beyond the letter.

Scruggs, a highly successful plaintiffs' lawyer, is suing State Farm on behalf of hundreds of Mississippi residents.

Scruggs could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but Zach Scruggs, his son and law partner in Oxford, said he received a copy of Martin's letter.

"We believe that the U.S. attorney's letter says all that needs to be said about this matter, and it would be inappropriate for us to say anything else at this time," Zach Scruggs told The Associated Press.

Acker ruled in June that Scruggs "willfully violated" a Dec. 8 preliminary injunction that required him to deliver "all documents" about State Farm Property and Casualty Insurance Co. secretly copied after Katrina by whistle-blowers Cori and Kerri Rigsby.

Acker's ruling came in a suit by E.A. Renfroe and Co. Inc., a claims-adjusting firm that fired the Rigsbys after finding out they had taken internal documents.

Renfroe and Co. worked for State Farm, and the sisters were heavily involved in processing claims for the insurance giant.

Instead of complying with the December injunction, Acker said in the June ruling, Scruggs promptly sent the documents to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office "for the calculated purpose of ensuring noncompliance with or avoidance" of the injunction.

He said Scruggs' motive seemed clear from the undisputed facts.

"Even after Hood 'voluntarily' sent the documents to counsel for Renfroe at Scruggs's request, Scruggs wrote to Hood requesting another copy of the same documents for himself and ostensibly for the Scruggs Katrina Group," the judge wrote.

At the time, Scruggs called the judge's actions "bizarre" and said his firm had completely complied with the injunction.

The Rigsbys, from Ocean Springs, have admitted copying thousands of pages of records to back up their allegations State Farm wrongly denied claims after Katrina.

The sisters gave the documents to law enforcement agents and Scruggs, who signed them each to a $150,000-a-year consulting contract. The sisters say they made about 15,000 copies - three sets of 5,000 separate records.

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U.S. attorney declines to prosecute Scruggs

The Associated Press
July 25, 2007

BIRMINGHAM — The U.S. attorney in Birmingham declined today a federal judge’s request to prosecute prominent Mississippi attorney Richard F. Scruggs and his law firm for criminal contempt in a Hurricane Katrina insurance dispute.

U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said in the letter to U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. that “following a serious and thorough review of the facts surrounding this indirect criminal contempt,” she had decided not to prosecute Scruggs or his law firm.

In his June 15 request Acker said he would appoint another attorney to handle the prosecution if Martin declined the court’s request.

Acker’s office did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment this afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Martin’s office, Jill Ellis, said the U.S. attorney had no further comment beyond the letter.

Acker ruled in June that 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.

Acker’s ruling came in a suit by E.A. Renfroe and Co. Inc., a claims adjusting firm that fired the Rigsbys after finding out they had taken internal documents.

Renfroe and Co. worked for State Farm, and the sisters were heavily involved in processing claims for the insurance giant.

Original article published here.

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