Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood Demands $2,100 To Reveal The Emails He's Had With The MPAA

from the shake-down dept

As you may know, we’ve been covering the story of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and his campaign against Google. A few years ago, we noted how bizarre it was that Hood and other state Attorneys General seemed to be blaming Google for all kinds of bad things online. It seemed to show a fundamental lack of understanding about how the internet (and the law!) worked. Of course, things became somewhat more “understandable” when emails leaked in the Sony Hack revealed that the MPAA had an entire “Project Goliath” designed around attacking Google, and the centerpiece of it was funding Jim Hood’s investigation into Google, including handling most of the lawyering, writing up Hood’s letters to Google and even the “civil investigative demand” (CID — basically a subpoena) that he could send.

Hood lashed out angrily about all of this, even as the NY Times revealed that the metadata on the letter he sent Google showed that it was really written by top MPAA lawyers. Hood continued to angrily lash out, demonstrating how little he seemed to understand about the internet. He made claims that were simply untrue — including pretending that Google would take users to Silk Road, the dark market hidden site that could never be found via a Google search. Hood also dared reporters to find any evidence of funding from Hollywood, and it didn’t take us long to find direct campaign contributions to his PAC from the MPAA and others.

Given all of this, we filed a Mississippi Public Records request with his office, seeking his email communications with the MPAA, its top lawyers and with the Digital Citizens Alliance, an MPAA front-group that has released highly questionable studies on “piracy” and just so happened to have hired Hood’s close friend Mike Moore to lobby Hood in Mississippi. Moore was the Mississippi Attorney General before Hood and helped Hood get into politics.

We’ve had to go back and forth with Hood’s office a few times. First, his office noted that Google had actually filed a similar request, and wanted to know if we were working for Google in making the request. We had no idea Google made such a request and certainly were not working on behalf of Google in making our request — but Hood’s office helpfully forwarded us Google’s request, which was actually a hell of a lot more detailed and comprehensive than our own. This actually is helpful in pointing to some other areas of interest to explore.

However, after some more back and forth, Hood’s office first said that it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product” and that finding the rest of the emails would… require an upfront payment of $2,103.10:

In response to your request for e-mails between this office and the Motion Picture Association of America or the Digital Citizens Alliance, we estimate it will take our IT department five hours to conduct searches for e-mails responsive to your request. The hourly figure for the lowest paid employee able and available to do this work is $30.62, for a total of $153.10.

The documents will then have to be reviewed to determine if they fall under the definition of “public records” as defined by Miss. Code Ann. §25-61-3(b), and if they are otherwise exempt from the Public Records Act. At this time, a rough estimate of the amount of time to review the requested records is thirty hours. At $65 per hour, the total, conservative estimate to review your request is $1,950. Pursuant to statute, these total estimated costs of $2,103.10 must be paid in advance. We will revise the estimate as necessary after the search is completed and we have a better idea of how many documents must be reviewed. Of course, if we are able to fulfill your request for less than the estimate, then we will refund the difference to you.

I had one further back and forth with the office, asking why these estimates seemed so high. In this day and age, how could it honestly take five hours to run a search on an email system? More importantly, how could it possibly take 30 hours of high priced time to review each document like that? I may not be a FOIA master like Jason Leopold, but I’ve never seen a response to a FOIA request like this. Normally, when a journalist is seeking records, it’s fairly standard to exempt fees, but it seems clear that Jim Hood’s office doesn’t want these emails getting out, so it’s not going to do that.

It also is already telegraphing the fact that it’s likely not going to release any of the emails that actually matter, claiming that they are either “attorney work product” or “investigative reports.” While Hood’s office says there are “nearly 900 emails” responsive to my request, it expects most of them to be exempt from public records requests. Thus, all we’d end up doing is forking over $2,103.10 that we don’t have to Jim Hood’s office to use to further its own efforts. I have no interest in further funding Hood attempting to attack fundamentals of free speech and the internet, but this little bit of obstructionism certainly is suggestive of the way Hood’s office operates, and its absolute fear of transparency.

It certainly makes you wonder why his office is so afraid to release those emails? The Sony Hack certainly revealed some questionable activities going on between Hood, the MPAA, its lawyers and the Digital Citizens Alliance. If Hood’s work with the MPAA and its lawyers and partners were truly above board, and Hood were truly committed to transparency, you’d think his office would be eager to release the emails and clear up any misconception. Unfortunately, they’d rather demand thousands of dollars from a small blog. That says a lot.





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Companies: google, mpaa

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Comments on “Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood Demands $2,100 To Reveal The Emails He's Had With The MPAA”

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77 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Slip of the tongue?

While Hood’s office says there are “nearly 900 emails” responsive to my request,

Hood’s office first said that it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product”

Compare the above to this, from an earlier article:

Hood said the MPAA “has no major influence on my decision-making,” although he noted that content creators occasionally provide reports and advice to him. “They’re just reporting wrongdoing. There’s nothing unusual about that,” he said. Hood said he has never asked MPAA a legal question, isn’t sure which lawyers they employ, and doesn’t think he’s ever met the organization’s general counsel.

So they’ve had ‘no major influence on [his] decision making’, and yet there are estimated to be at least 900 emails sent between the two.

In addition, despite claiming that they were ‘just reporting wrongdoing’, and Hood never asked them a legal question, somehow the communications between the two qualify as “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product”.

One of these claims is clearly not true. Either the hundreds of emails sent back and forth had nothing to do with legal matters, in which case they would not be protected as attorney-client communications, or they were indeed legal discussions, in which case they would be.

Honestly, if he’s going to lie, he could at least put some effort into it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Slip of the tongue?

It seems like the more significant scandal is that this refusal is an admission of an attorney-client relationship. Either Hood’s working for the MPAA lawyers or they’re working for him. Either way, Hood’s only “clients” should be constituents of his state, so if the lawyers don’t live in Mississippi, they shouldn’t be his clients. And if he’s their client, why is he using government email systems to send 900 non-work-related emails, quite likely on the public dime? It seems like he’s admitting that he’s accepting money from them. That right there should be enough of an ethical violation to get him indicted.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Slip of the tongue?

… the communications between the two qualify as “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product”

Just going by this latest lie, didn’t he just admit he’s working for the MPAA (“attorney-client“) while serving as Mississippi’s AG, or is he saying he’s the client and the MPAA is his lawyer (and, if so, WTF?!?)? How can anyone reasonably expect BS like this to pass the smell test?

I can tell I’m going to really enjoy reading whatever Google pries out of him. This is crazier than HRC’s email problem.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Slip of the tongue?

um, as AG of the STATE of mississippi, aren’t THE PEOPLE of mississippi his ‘clients’ ? ? ?

WTF legal business does the THE STATE’S AG have with a private korporation that there is ‘attorney/client’ privilege ? ? ?

just who the hell is he ‘representing’ ? ? ?
(rhetorical question)

Ninja (profile) says:

I’m glad to see that Google is all over this (highly predictable). The MPAA has gone at least one step too far and hopefully it will speed up their demise.

As for Hood, shame on him.

it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product”

The “attorney-client” claim is kind of shaky already considering the whole thing but let’s not be so harsh, eh? But “attorney work product” would include virtually everything produced by his office considering he is the ATTORNEY general… But never mind.

I think this is big. Very big. I hope Google digs to the end. And if I see a crowdsourcing campaign to help dig it I will contribute for sure. It’s about time the anti-piracy morons are exposed for their shady business that does not care about artists and creativity at all.

Iolaire McFadden says:

As @AH2014 says we really just need a crowd source method to pay fees like this. I know you try to stand on your morals and not pay for things that can be free, but I’d prefer you just ask people for money and we all chip in $25 and see what comes out. This story you wrote is one we hear quite often, and rater than letting that block us let your readers pay and move on to analyzing the release.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Mike already explained why he’s not interested in paying for the documents.

It also is already telegraphing the fact that it’s likely not going to release any of the emails that actually matter, claiming that they are either “attorney work product” or “investigative reports.” While Hood’s office says there are “nearly 900 emails” responsive to my request, it expects most of them to be exempt from public records requests. Thus, all we’d end up doing is forking over $2,103.10 that we don’t have to Jim Hood’s office to use to further its own efforts. I have no interest in further funding Hood attempting to attack fundamentals of free speech and the internet, but this little bit of obstructionism certainly is suggestive of the way Hood’s office operates, and its absolute fear of transparency.

Crowdfunding things like this would be nice, but in this case pointless, as it would be paying for useless information(as any damning emails would certainly be kept), and giving money to an unpleasant individual to help him with his actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hood’s office first said that it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product”

This is ridiculous. The communications between Hood and MPAA’s lawyers are not attorney-client communications unless one was retained as the lawyer for the other. Which, almost certainly, is not the case.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Waiver?

“This is ridiculous. The communications between Hood and MPAA’s lawyers are not attorney-client communications unless one was retained as the lawyer for the other. Which, almost certainly, is not the case.”

Indeed, the emails would seem to be a clear example of a waiver of attorney client privileged because Jim Hood is a 3d party to the MPAA and their lawyers.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How the Attorney-client-priviledge prevent the CLIENT (Jim Hood) from releasing the documents?

To the extent that the claim isn’t complete bullshit (which I think it probably is), I would think the MPAA hired him, not the other way around. Which should be grounds for immediate prosecution IMO, but we know how likely a federal prosecutor is to pursue an AG.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know, it would not hurt to ask about this admission of attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product”, seeing as how he has already publicly stated that he sought no legal advice from the MPAA lawyers. Then follow up with another article.

I remind you that this blog is read widely and frequently by political forces in Washington, DC. Jim Hood has political foes if nothing more than the opposite political faction but could well go deeper.

Several articles on this is likely to bring the sort of embarrassing pressures that Hood would not like to be faced with, in a front page sort of news worthy event in his own state where accountability is likely to bring a Streisand landslide.

Jim Hood has put himself in a rather delicate position for a public figure. One that is beginning to sound highly fragile and needing only some small push to create a Humpty Dumpty event.

DigDug says:

Attorney General is a state employee...

The only client that he has is the citizens of the state he was hired to work for.

That means every citizen of that state is a client, and has the legal right to every document / e-mail / recording that this idiot has.

He has NO privacy, he’s employed by the people of his state.
End of story.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Attorney General is a state employee...

I believe you are laboring under the false impression that the USA is still a land of Law and Order.

They changed the law and now its only a land of Order.

So now, all Federal Employees have civil rights and all citizens have but one right – the right to remain silent, as anything you say may and indeed will be used against you in a court of law.

No Brown Shirt, no civil rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

As noted in previous comments, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office needs to provide some clarification as to exactly what “attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product” means. (is this any kind of recognized legal classification, or some bullshit they just made up on the fly to try to weasel out of abiding by FOIA?) The legal concept of attorney-client privilege, at least as it applies to public officials, has been seriously knocked down in recent years:

Ironically, it was the fair-haired Republican stalwart Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr who decimated the attorney-client privilege for government lawyers and their clients – which, to paraphrase the authority Wigmore, applies when legal advice of any kind is sought by a client from a professional legal adviser, where the advice is sought in confidence.

The reason the privilege was created was to insure open and candid discussion between a lawyer and his or her client. It traditionally applied in both civil and criminal situations for government lawyers, just as it did for non-government lawyers. It applied to written records of communications, such as attorney’s notes, as well as to the communications themselves.

But Starr tried to thwart that tradition in two different cases, before two federal appeals courts. There, he contended that there should be no such privilege in criminal cases involving government lawyers.

In the first case, In re Grand Jury Subpoenas Duces Tecum, former First Lady Hillary Clinton had spoken with her private counsel in the presence of White House counsel (who had made notes of the conversation). Starr wanted the notes. Hillary Clinton claimed the privilege.

A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed with Starr. The court held that a grand jury was entitled to the information. It also held that government officials — even when serving as attorneys — had a special obligation to provide incriminating information in their possession.

In the second case, In re Lindsey, Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey refused to testify about his knowledge of President Clinton’s relationship to Monica Lewinsky, based on attorney-client privilege. Starr sought to compel Lindsey’s testimony, and he won again.

This time, Starr persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to follow the Eighth Circuit. The court ruled that exposure of wrongdoing by government lawyers fostered democracy, as “openness in government has always been thought crucial to ensuring that the people remain in control of their government.”

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dean/20040604.html

David says:

Yup.

However, after some more back and forth, Hood’s office first said that it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications”

Well, that’s equivalent to “we refuse to share the emails since they are evidence of a criminal collusion between state servant Hood and the MPAA”. Because a criminal collusion is the only thing which could lead to an attorney-client relationship here.

It’s nice that they admit as much.

andy says:

We Done Fucked UP!!!!

Eventually, the mpaa has got away with theft and probably murder and has now gained the worst enemy possible, the Goliath “GOOGLE”

Google seems to have much better lawyers who are able to show they are in the right even under the restrictive court rules, I am personally impressed with their lawyers so far and hope they continue this winning trend.

Seems like the cocaine parties have gone to MAFFIA heads as they don’t make any sense when arguing this case.

Awwww shut up andy they might read this and use that as an excuse to get the case thrown out.

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