Democrat Atty. Gen. Jim Hood's challenger accused him on Monday of selling his influence by taking more than $400,000 in campaign contributions from law firms he awarded state contracts to as outside counsel.

Al Hopkins, the Republican nominee, leveled the charges of influence peddling at a luncheon in downtown Jackson sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government.

Meanwhile, Hood, 45, accused Hopkins of padding his resume by citing experience as a military judge in a court that hasn't convened since Ray Mabus was governor.

Each of the candidates spoke for more than 10 minutes and then took questions from an audience of about 75, comprised mostly of political supporters and aides.

"There is a pattern of behavior that creates an unhealthy perception of your attorney general's office in the state of Mississippi," said Hopkins, 66, who's in private practice in Gulfport. "We don't know if he's selling state contracts for campaign contributions or just suffers bad judgment."

Among other cases, Hopkins mentioned the $14 million fee awarded to Hood's longtime friend Joey Langston, who represented the state in the MCI case in which $100 million in overdue taxes was recovered.

Langston, of Booneville, has been one of Hood's top campaign contributors.

"It's kind of like intellectual property. They're bringing you an idea," Hood said. "And we give it to whomever it is, and if they've got the ability to handle it and the wherewithal to handle it and the money to back it, they've got the case. If they don't, we encourage them to go out and find other lawyers who they can team up with and work the cases. We don't do it on partisanship," Hood said.

State Auditor Phil Bryant issued a demand to Lanston in November 2006. On Sept. 10 he again asked Hood to recover the $14 million, saying the law requires the money to go through the state appropriations process.

Bryant, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, reportedly began the investigation into the fees more than a year ago.

Langston said Monday he filed suit against Bryant asking a bankruptcy court to confirm the award. He posted a press release and the suit at langstonlaw.com/news.htm.

Interestingly, Exhibit M in the suit against Bryant - the Sept. 10 letter from Bryant to Hood again demanding Hood recover the MCI fees - was faxed from the law firm of Mike Moore, the former attorney general.

Did Hood leak privildged information from Bryant and tip Langston off?

In a press release after the Stennis luncheon, Hopkins cited the following examples of Hood's alleged influence peddling:

• On Nov. 15, 2005, Jim Hood received $15,000 from an attorney with Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz of New York. Their firm received a state contract three months later on February 16, 2006. In return, they contributed to Hood another $15,000 a week after they received the contract (Feb. 23).

• After receiving $25,000 from partners with Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossman of New York on Feb. 14, 16, and 17, Hood signed over to them three separate state contracts a week later on Feb. 21 and March 14, 2006. The same firm then gave another series of contributions on April 16, 24, 25, and 26, which followed with another contract soon thereafter on May 17, 2006.

• Jim Hood received contributions of $11,500 to his campaign from Schiffrin, Barroway, Topaz & Kessler of Pennsylvania in February 2006, which led to contingency fee contracts immediately following in March and April. 

• Likewise, Wolf Popper of New York contributed $15,000 to Jim Hood on Feb. 22, 2006 and received a contingency fee contract just a few weeks later on March 23, 2006.

• On Sept. 19, 2005, Jim Hood signed Baron & Budd of Texas to a contingency fee state contract, which soon led to another $19,200 for Hood's campaign on Nov. 7 and 8.

Hopkins responded to a question about padding his resume by saying, "I'm not padding my resume. That's a true statement. I am the chief judge of the Military Court of Appeals. I guess you could say the people in the military in the state of Mississippi are first-class individuals, every one of them. And they don't get into trouble."

The press release said Hood's attack on his military career is a smokescreen to hide his influence peddling.

"Jim Hood's false and negative attack on my military service is a ludicrous smokescreen by a man who is desperate to hide the way he appears to be selling state contracts to his political contributors," said Hopkins.

"Sadly, Mr. Hood has a pattern of behavior that creates the unhealthy perception that Mississippi's Attorney General's office is for sale."

Mr. Hood says he's a prosecutor, but it was Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan who made the most compelling and convincing closing arguments in the infamous Killen trial in 2004 that probably salvaged the case and spared the state of Mississippi a humiliating loss.

Jim Prince is publisher of the Madison County Journal. The Journal's parent company, Prince Newspaper Holdings, Inc., publishes The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia.