By HOLBROOK MOHR
Associated Press Writer
JACKSON, Miss. -- A lawsuit filed by State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. that accuses Attorney General Jim Hood of using the threat of criminal charges to force settlements in civil lawsuits is based on "lies, speculation, and innuendo," Hood said in court papers.
State Farm sued Hood in September, claiming he violated his part of a January 2007 settlement in which the attorney general's office agreed to end its criminal investigation over the company's handling of Hurricane Katrina claims. A judge ordered Hood to temporarily shut down the probe.
The accusations in court documents have intensified over the past week as both sides prepare for a hearing on Wednesday.
"Before allowing State Farm to use this court as a three ring circus to parade its inflammatory evidentiary rhetoric of innuendo, guilt by association, and smears, there should be some factual basis alleged to support a conclusion of retaliation and/or harassment," Hood said in papers filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Jackson.
Jonathan Freed, a State Farm spokesman told The Associated Press on Friday, that the insurer is ready to "proceed with our case and we're looking forward to airing these issues in court."
Hood asked the court to dissolve the restraining order and allow him to resume his investigation. Hood's 19-page filing came just days after State Farm used some of the strongest language yet in accusing the second-term attorney general of wrongdoing.
The company claimed Hood and wealthy plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who is facing corruption and contempt charges in other cases, participated in an "extortion conspiracy" by trying to force the company to settle civil litigation with private attorneys.
The court battle heated up when State Farm began urging a judge to allow the company to question Scruggs under oath. Hood has called Scruggs his "confidential informant" and has said Scruggs provided allegedly incriminating information about State Farm.
"General Hood is clearly concerned that his co-conspirator will either tell the truth or invoke the Fifth Amendment on specific questions related to their extortion conspiracy," State Farm said in a motion filed Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills on Friday ordered Scruggs to submit to the questioning by 5 p.m. Monday. Scruggs will likely invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when questioned because of the pending charges against him.
Scruggs, one of the most influential plaintiffs lawyers in the country, is facing federal charges that he conspired with several associates to bribe a judge in an unrelated dispute over $26.5 million in fees from a mass settlement of Katrina claims. He's facing contempt charges in Alabama for allegedly violating a federal judge's order by giving leaked Katrina assessment documents to Hood rather than returning them to the company from which they were taken.
Scruggs has denied wrongdoing in either case. Scruggs is not a party to the lawsuit State Farm filed against Hood, but the company claims he worked in collusion with Hood.
The January 2007 agreement that State Farm claims Hood violated by resuming a criminal investigation was part of a broader settlement that called for State Farm to reopen and possibly pay thousands of policyholder claims. However, a federal judge refused to sign off the terms of deal and State Farm later entered into another agreement with George Dale, who was then Mississippi's Insurance Commissioner.
In August 2007, State Farm received a new subpoena for records from a grand jury. Less than a month later, the company sued Hood in an effort to stop the grand jury's investigation.
Hood claims he wasn't reopening the same investigation, rather he was probing new claims.
Hood has argued that he never provided "blanket immunity" from future investigations.
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