Tag Archives: Mississippi

Expensive lawyers line up in TN vs. MS lawsuit

Both the state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis have retained expensive private law firms to fight a $615 million lawsuit filed by the state of Mississippi over underground water rights, reports the Commercial Appeal. Mississippi has a famous law firm that won’t be paid anything – unless it wins.

The 22 percent rate increase that will add an average of $3.31 a month to the water bills of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division customers beginning in January was needed in part to pay for rising legal costs associated with the lawsuit filed against MLGW, the city of Memphis and state of Tennessee, officials say.

…The mounting legal expenses reflect the high-stakes nature of the water lawsuit, in which Mississippi claims MLGW, the city and Tennessee have “forcibly” taken its water through excessive pumping from an aquifer underlying both states. The Supreme Court in June granted Mississippi’s request to file the suit, and since then it has appointed a Special Master, Eugene Siler Jr., a former judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, to oversee the case.

The utility and city have hired Memphis’ largest law firm, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, to defend against the suit. “It’s a serious case. It’s dangerous, and we’re certainly going to treat it that way,” said David Bearman, one of the attorneys handling the case for the firm.

…The state has retained lawyers with the Washington firm of Kellogg Huber, described by the website Above the Law as an “uber-elite, D.C.-based litigation boutique” whose ranks include 17 former Supreme Court clerks, six former assistant U.S. attorneys and several others who served in high-ranking White House and Justice Department positions. The firm specializes in complex trial and appellate cases and typically represents Fortune 100 companies, large banks, hedge funds, high-tech firms and states and government entities.

…But while MLGW ratepayers and Tennessee taxpayers ante up large sums for defense, Mississippi taxpayers won’t be paying anything for their state to bring the suit. The plaintiffs are led by renowned Lexington, Mississippi, lawyer Don Barrett, who has won landmark settlements against tobacco companies, automobile makers, pharmaceutical firms, tire companies, insurance firms and others.

“We’re doing this (water lawsuit) on a contingency. We lose, we won’t be paid anything. We win, we might get paid a lot,” Barrett said Friday.

“The state of Mississippi preferred to do it this way, and so did we. … We’re seasoned, experienced lawyers, and we’re going to win this case.”

Barrett said his firm has invested more than $1 million in preparing the water lawsuit. In previous cases, he represented the attorneys general of about a dozen states in litigation that forced Big Tobacco firms to repay those states for millions of dollars they’d spent in cigarette-related health costs.

SCOTUS clears way for MS lawsuit against TN, Memphis over use of water aquifer

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted Mississippi’s request to file a new lawsuit claiming Memphis is stealing its water, reports the Commercial Appeal. The move keeps alive a legal battle now in its 11th year.

Four years after denying a similar request, the court approved the state’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint. The ruling gives defendants 30 days to file an answer.

In a 300-plus-page motion filed with the court last year, Mississippi had asked permission to file a new complaint seeking at least $615 million in damages. The proposed complaint names Memphis, the city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division and the state of Tennessee as defendants.

The legal battle centers on MLGW’s pumping of at least 140 million gallons of water daily from a high-quality aquifer known alternately as the Memphis Sand and Sparta Sand. Mississippi’s proposed complaint says Memphis’ wells have created “cones of depression” in the water table that suck water across state lines into Tennessee.

Through that process, the city has “forcibly” taken an estimated 252 billion gallons of Mississippi’s water since 1985, the state says.

The case dates back to 2005, when Mississippi Atty. Gen. Jim Hood filed suit against Memphis and MLGW in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi. That complaint sought up to $1.3 billion in damages and could have required the city to draw water from the Mississippi River. In February 2008, U.S. Dist. Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled that his court lacked jurisdiction because the state of Tennessee must be brought in as a “necessary and indispensable” party. In a dispute between states, the arbiter must be the Supreme Court, he said.

Davidson’s ruling was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And in January 2010, the Supreme Court, without comment, denied Mississippi’s motion to overturn an appellate court’s ruling and rejected the state’s motion to file a new suit.

The new filing adds Tennessee as a defendant.

…David Bearman, an attorney representing Memphis and MLGW, said the ruling doesn’t mean Mississippi will ultimately prevail in the legal battle. “I would say we’re disappointed that Mississippi is being allowed to file its complaint, but we still feel like we’ve got a very strong case,” he said.

Lots of State Officials Vow to Ignore New Fed Gun Laws

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — From Oregon to Mississippi, President Barack Obama’s proposed ban on new assault weapons and large-capacity magazines struck a nerve among rural lawmen and lawmakers, many of whom vowed to ignore any restrictions — and even try to stop federal officials from enforcing gun policy in their jurisdictions.
“A lot of sheriffs are now standing up and saying, ‘Follow the Constitution,'” said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson, whose territory covers the timbered mountains of southwestern Oregon.
But their actual powers to defy federal law are limited. And much of the impassioned rhetoric amounts to political posturing until — and if — Congress acts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said Wednesday it’s unlikely an assault weapons ban would actually pass the House of Representatives. Absent action by Congress, all that remains are 23 executive orders Obama announced that apply only to the federal government, not local or state law enforcement.

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TN Dems Have Mark Clayton; MS Dems Have Al Gore

Tennessee isn’t the only Southern state where Democrats have had difficulties in coming up with a credible candidate for statewide office, observes the Tennessean.
While Tennessee Democrats have disowned and vowed not to support nominee Mark Clayton of Whites Creek in the U.S. Senate race — due to his views on gays and his association with an anti-gay group — their Alabama counterparts took an even more drastic step with one of their candidates.
The Democratic Party there disqualified its nominee for chief justice of the state Supreme Court because of comments he made online about the Republican nominee, accusing him of having “dementia” and being “a devil worshipper.” Party officials felt the comments were improper for a judicial nominee. It just so happened the Democratic nominee in question, Harry Lyon, also had a long history of entering and losing Alabama political races.
And in Mississippi, Democrats are relying on an 82-year-old to fill a ballot spot opposite incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Wicker. His name is Albert N. Gore Jr., who the Mississippi League of Women voters says is a distant cousin to Al Gore, the former Democratic vice president and U.S. senator from Tennessee.
Gore told National Public Radio that someone younger should be making the race but “they didn’t want to fight.”
“The lack of even qualified Democrats is really becoming a problem (in the South). More and more Republicans are running unopposed,” said Steve Borrelli, political analyst at the University of Alabama.

Mayors Giving Attention to the Mississippi River

Forty-one mayors from along the Mississippi River, including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, gathered in St. Louis Thursday to call attention to the troubles the waterway is facing, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The nation’s largest river, and most important waterway for commerce, has suffered over the years from neglect and most recently from natural disasters such as drought and hurricanes.
The St. Louis gathering is the inaugural event of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, funded by $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
The meeting comes amid a severe drought that has seen the river drop to near record lows, just over a year after historic flooding.
“It has strengthened our resolve that the Mississippi River needs more attention,” said Wharton, who was selected by his peers to serve on the nine-member executive board of the initiative.
Barely a year after its high-water records in numerous cities, the river dropped to historic low stages this year. In Memphis in late August, the river dropped to within almost a foot of the all-time record low set in July 1988 of minus 10.7 on the Memphis gauge.The river is responsible for creating $105 billion worth of U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative. It provides drinking water for more than 18 million people, transports 62 percent of the nation’s agricultural output and delivers nearly 400 tons of coal and petroleum products. The group says the river directly supports 1 million jobs.
This summer, eight of the 10 states touching the river were declared drought emergency sites. Hurricane Isaac added to the problems.

Mississippi Publishing Company Buys TN Newspapers

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Journal Inc., which publishes the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, has acquired a group of weekly community newspapers in the suburban Memphis, Tenn., area.
The company reports (http://bit.ly/t4NelJ) that details of the transaction were not disclosed.
Clay Foster, CEO of Journal Inc., says the company acquired the Bartlett Express, Millington Star, Collierville Independent, Shelby Sun Times, Oakland News and the Classified Advantage. Foster says the company also will produce The BlueJacket for the Millington Naval Base.
Foster says Journal Inc. will now publish 20 publications in Mississippi and Tennessee

AP’s Roundup of Tuesday State Elections: Status Quo in N.C., Miss.

By the Associated Press:
For all the frustration surrounding the economy, voters refused to throw incumbent parties out of governors’ and most big-city mayors’ offices, and they turned back an Ohio law that aimed to ease grinding budget problems by restricting the union rights of public employees.
In the heart of the Bible Belt, a Mississippi initiative that would have defined life as beginning at fertilization also went down to defeat, ending a plan to use it to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion.
Across the nation, voters’ last major judgments of 2011 were sure to be closely analyzed for any clues about the public’s political mood just two months ahead of the first presidential primary and nearly four years into the worst economic slowdown since the Depression.
Kentucky’s Democratic governor easily won another term, and Mississippi voters kept their governor’s office in GOP hands — decisions that suggested many Americans were not ready to abandon the parties in power.
In Ohio, a hotly debated new law that severely limited the bargaining rights of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees was repealed with more than 60 percent of the vote. The defeat was a stinging blow to Gov. John Kasich and cast doubt on other Republican governors who have sought union-limiting measures as a means to curb spending.
“Ohio sent a message to every politician out there: Go in and make war on your employees rather than make jobs with your employees, and you do so at your own peril,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

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Today’s TN Tidbits of News and Opinion

Bredesen’s Vanguard Pay Revealed
From The City Paper:
Wondering what former Gov. Phil Bredesen will receive for his service on the board of hospital chain Vanguard Health Systems? (Prevopis post HERE.) So were we — and then Vanguard told us in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Per the plan the board adopted last month, Bredesen will get a $100,000 annual retainer, $20,000 every 12 months as a member of Vanguard’s audit and governance committee and another $150,000 in restricted shares each year.
On the Anonymous Mailer Matter
From Georgiana Vines, who checked out one rumor about a mystery campaign tactic and got a denial:
The anonymous, anti-mayoral candidate Madeline Rogero fliers that have been distributed in newspaper boxes twice this fall are typical of many heated campaigns in the past in Knoxville. No one wants to admit to anonymity or why would they be anonymous?
Whiskey Barrel Tax Discussed
A push is under way to create an unprecedented local barrel tax on Jack Daniel’s whiskey so the cash-strapped Moore County government can balance its budget and accommodate the ever-growing crush of tourists, reports the Tennessean. (Previous post HERE.)
GOP Advancing in Other Legislatures
Stateline has a story on Republicans moving to take control of still more Southern state legislatures in the 2012 elections. The lead is on Mississippi, where House Democrats “were spared (in 2010) because the legislature’s seats were not on the ballot.”
But with legislative elections now a month away, Republicans have a chance to extend their newfound power this year not only in Mississippi but also Virginia.
North Carolina could be next. Republicans who took over both chambers of the General Assembly last year hope to complete their sweep in 2012 by taking the governor’s mansion.
Mississippi Democrats know the trend all too well. The state Senate first flipped to Republican control a decade ago, and it remains in GOP hands today. One of the country’s foremost Republican strategists, Haley Barbour, sits in the governor’s mansion. During Barbour’s eight years in office, he has helped the GOP flourish. Meanwhile, a 2004 limiting the size of jury awards has deprived Democrats of the donations from trial lawyers that once fueled the party operation. Democrats have feuded internally and struggled to give voters a clear message of what their party stood for.

Gay Bias Bill’; Revisited
A Gail Kerr column begins thusly: State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, has little or no chance of getting a state law overturned that wiped out Nashville’s right to ban discrimination against gays. But she’s still doing the right thing by bringing it back up.
An Angry A C?
Otis Sanford says in a column that recently reelected Memphis Mayor A C Wharton is “seething over the fact that the municipal unions put their support behind a candidate — former city councilman Edmund Ford Sr. — who clearly was not qualified to be mayor of Memphis.”
“This may seem a bit arrogant and condescending,” Wharton told me in an interview last week. But the backing that Ford received from leaders of the police, firefighters and sanitation unions was a joke. And had Ford won, it would have been a national embarrassment for Memphis
.UT in on Bee Money
AMHERST, Mass. (AP) — Researchers in five eastern U.S. states are getting federal support to study the decline in native bee populations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $3.3 million grant is intended to help researchers find ways to maintain a diverse community of wild bees. They’re needed to keep pollinating apples, low-bush blueberries, pumpkins and other important crops.
The USDA awarded the grant to a University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher last week.
She will work with more than a dozen scientists at the University of Maine; Cornell University in New York; the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station; and the University of Tennessee.
Researchers plan to study how the bees’ diversity is affected by factors such as landscapes, farm size and pesticide use. They will also study whether the bees are vulnerable to certain pathogens and parasites

Oak Ridge, Mississippi River Projects Included in Federal Funding Bill

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s officeL
WASHINGTON – At a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting held Wednesday to mark up fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) praised the Energy and Water bill’s reduced spending level, as well as its prioritization of projects at Tennessee labs:
“Labs in Tennessee have a number of programs that are critical to the country and Congress has made them a priority,” Alexander said.
The appropriations bills being discussed are for fiscal year 2012 and do not include any earmarks, in keeping with Senate rules changed by request of Senate Republicans. Therefore, funds directed toward Tennessee projects reflect the priorities of Senate as a whole.
At a subcommittee meeting this week, Alexander said: “I want to make sure that our timidity in failing to rein in runaway healthcare spending doesn’t squeeze out necessary funding on pro-growth functions of the government that we need to continue. One of those is advanced research. …The same is true with our locks and our dams and other things we deal with with the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s all part of a pro-growth policy and it’s all part of this bill. My view is that the federal government ought to appropriately accelerate its research in key areas.”
Tennessee projects funded in the bill include:

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A Tort Story: Haslam, Et Al Vs. Thompson, Et Al

(Note: This is an unedited version of a story written for Sunday’s News Sentinel.)
Bill Haslam says Tennessee needs to become more friendly toward business while Fred Thompson says that the centerpiece of his plans for doing so would unnecessarily make the state more hostile to human suffering.
Going by arguments presented to state legislators, that seems the gist of the clash between Republican Haslam, elected governor last year, and Republican Thompson, elected to the U.S. Senate twice in the 1990s, over the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011.
The proposed new law, HB2008, would impose a new and comprehensive set of restrictions on lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by negligence or wrongful actions.
“Folks, we’re about to kill a mouse with a bazooka here,” said Thompson, a lawyer, actor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate retained by the Tennessee Association of Justice for an undisclosed fee to lobby against the bill.
Thompson and others opposing the bill related to legislators horrific stories of people victimized by seemingly callous disregard for human life. Tennessee’s present system of civil justice already has ample restrictions in place against abuses that have plagued other states and, as Thompson said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
There is an armada of lobbyists and influential groups joining Haslam in pushing for passage of the bill, which expected to face its first vote this week. Three organizations have been set up to present legislators and the public with the proposition that “lawsuit abuse” and “jackpot justice” are moving into Tennessee, deterring business investment and frightening doctors and other health care professionals.
One of the tort reform advocacy groups, Tennesseans for Economic Growth, presented lawmakers with “economic study” asserting that approval of Haslam’s bill would create 122,422 new jobs and $16.2 billion in “additional economic output” in the state over the next 10 years over what would occur without passage. Thompson said the group paid $100,000 for the study and depicted it as meaningless propaganda.

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