Just short of two years from the date Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Mississippi, the storm claimed a political casualty: Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale, who got on the wrong side of gajillionaire tort, asbestos, tobacco and insurance policyholder lawyer Dickie Scruggs and was defeated earlier this month by a Scruggs-backed and Scruggs-bankrolled candidate.
Scruggs, who was a driving force behind many of the thousands of Katrina insurance lawsuits in Mississippi, employed his usual style of treating litigation as having three components: law, public relations and politics. Dale, he believed, was too soft on insurance companies and stood in his way. Particularly galling to Scruggs, it appeared, was that Dale put together a deal with State Farm for the insurer to voluntarily review some 36,000 Katrina insurance claims, after a similar deal Scruggs had reached with the insurer to certify and settle a class action was shot down by federal judge L.T. Senter Jr. One might note that Scruggs and other lawyers in the Scruggs Katrina Group lost a big payday when the class action deal did not work.
Dale was serving his eighth term as insurance commissioner when Katrina hit. Before the storm, he planned to retire, but said he felt obligated to see the storm's aftermath through. Scruggs came after Dale hard. He called Dale "political toast" and took out a full-page ad in a Mississippi newspaper depicting Dale as a pig with lipstick, lounging in a beauty shop while State Farm dolled him up to fool the voters, a reference to Dale's acceptance of insurance company money to finance his campaign and his alleged coziness with insurers.
Here is a post I wrote about Dale's defeat in the Mississippi primary. Insurance commissioner is a position that has relatively little power and is one that, normally, few people care about -- what's the name of your state's insurance commissioner? -- but the Dale race attracted more votes than any other on the statewide ballot. Despite the fact the Coastal counties hardest hit by Katrina went against Dale in a big way, he came within a pig's whisker of pulling the race out.
While Katrina litigation has brought further success to Scruggs, he, like Dale, has not remained untouched. As a result of his involvement with the "whistleblower" Rigsby sisters, who took thousands of pages of documents from a State Farm contractor that they and Scruggs claimed showed bad faith Katrina settlement practices, Scruggs allegedly violated an injunction by federal judge William Acker, who appointed special prosecutors to bring charges of criminal contempt against Scruggs.