Attorney General Lynn Fitch no longer represents State Auditor Shad White in two defamation cases after determining his upcoming book about the welfare scandal would cast her office in a negative light.
Fitch learned about White’s tell-all, “Mississippi Swindle: Brett Favre and the Welfare Scandal that Shocked America,” while representing him in two defamation lawsuits brought by Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre and James Thomas, a University of Mississippi sociology professor.
The book, which is slated to be released in August 2024, became an issue in Favre’s defamation suit against White last month. A Dec. 29 filing in Hinds County Circuit Court from Favre’s counsel argued that “Mississippi Swindle” is proof White intended to defame Favre when he criticized the quarterback in media appearances.
“White’s publication of this book — in which it is apparent he will continue his outrageous defamation campaign against Favre — provides even further confirmation that, when, as alleged in the complaint, White appeared on national and international media outlets to defame Favre, he was in no way acting within the scope of his official duties but instead to advance his personal political ambitions and, in the case of the book, make money,” the filing reads.
Fitch’s office responded on Jan. 2 and asked the court to grant White’s motion to dismiss.
But three days later, Fitch’s office sent White a letter notifying him of a conflict of interest, which Mississippi Today obtained from the auditor’s office. After reading an advanced copy of “Mississippi Swindle” and finding it contained multiple statements that called the integrity of the Attorney General into question, Fitch’s office decided it could no longer represent him.
“As a fellow statewide elected official, the Attorney General must reserve the right to refute these statements publicly in due course,” the Jan. 5 letter reads. “This dynamic obviously creates a divergence of interests between you and the Attorney General that impedes her ability to further discharge her duties as your counsel in the pending personal defamation actions.”
The letter further states Fitch’s office had previously advised White that any legal matters stemming from the publication of “Mississippi Swindle” would fall outside the scope of his office, so he would need to retain separate counsel.
By Friday evening, White had already appointed in-office counsel to represent him in both defamation suits because, he wrote on social media, his statements were made as part of his office’s investigations into the welfare scandal and Thomas’ participation in a two-day event called a “Scholar Strike.”
Thomas’ case has seen no movement since a Hinds County Circuit Court judge denied White’s motion to dismiss in 2022. White had argued that as a state executive officer, he is entitled to a legal doctrine known as “absolute immunity” — the complete protection from liability for actions committed in the course of his official duties.
Debbee Hancock, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in a statement that Fitch’s representation in White’s defamation cases was “discretionary” and that Fitch would continue to work with the auditor’s office on other cases, including those arising from the welfare scandal.
“We will continue to pursue our TANF civil suit with our partners at the Department of Human Services as well as any criminal wrongdoing that may come from our investigation, to the extent we can do so without stepping on the criminal case the Auditor chose to take to the District Attorney and U.S. Attorney for prosecution,” Hancock wrote.
Hancock added that Michelle Williams, Fitch’s chief of staff, said she would not specify the statements in the book that question the attorney general’s integrity as Williams is “bound by the rules of professional conduct.”
According to a blurb for “Mississippi Swindle” on the publisher’s website, the book “reveals a lack of cooperation and outright opposition to the investigation by prosecutors, legislators and other powerful figures that was almost as maddening as the theft itself.”
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