State Auditor Shad White (Photo from MS OSA Facebook)
Attorney General Lynn Fitch announced late Friday she was withdrawing as counsel for State Auditor Shad White in two defamation lawsuits brought against White, citing an undescribed conflict of interest. White fired back quickly.
The dust on the 2023 campaign for governor has hardly settled. But on a rainy Friday afternoon in Jackson, the first shots in a newly budding political war may have been fired.
Late Friday, Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office put out a statement indicating she was withdrawing her office’s defense of State Auditor Shad White in two defamation lawsuits filed against White.
The first lawsuit, brought by University of Mississippi professor James Thomas, related to statements White made about a “Scholar Strike” Thomas participated in for two days in September of 2020. White contended this protest violated Mississippi law, which prevents public educators from going on strike. He demanded Thomas repay $1,912 in salary and interest. Thomas sued.
(Thomas’s claim to fame before his “Scholar Strike” was to encourage people to disrupt Republican politicians’ meals when out at restaurants. He wrote, “Put your whole damn fingers in their salads. Take their apps and distribute them to the other diners. Bring boxes and take their food home with you on the way out.”)
The second lawsuit, brought by Brett Favre, relates to White’s statements about the NFL Hall of Famer’s involvement in the ongoing TANF welfare saga.
In her statement today, Fitch expressed “deep regret” for having to withdraw her office’s defense of White, but indicated that she had “learned of new information which has created a conflict pursuant to the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct.” Read Fitch’s Full Statement here.
It did not take long for the Auditor to release a statement of his own. In his statement, White said the Attorney General’s office had represented to him the nature of the alleged conflict of interest, pointing to content in White’s unreleased book, Mississippi Swindle, which “call[s] into question the integrity of the Attorney General and her office.” Read White’s Full Statement here. A copy of the letter the Auditor received from the Attorney General’s office is copied below:
The above letter was first made public in an article by Front Office Sports. The article indicated that White had agreed to waive attorney-client privilege only with respect to the letter. White’s public statement similarly indicated that his disclosure of the reason Fitch’s office chose to withdraw was limited and not intended to waive the attorney-client privilege “in any other instance.”
Mississippi Swindle, subtitled Brett Favre and the Welfare Scandal that Shocked America, is due out in August of 2024. The publisher, Penguin Random House, is marketing the book with the tagline, “How America’s youngest state auditor uncovered the largest public corruption scandal in the history of the nation’s poorest state.”
The book’s website has been widely circulated among politicos in recent weeks. It’s also caused movement in Favre’s case pending against White, as the famous gunslinger is seeking to amend his complaint against the Auditor in anticipation of the book’s release.
Favre’s attorneys argued in a December 29th letter to the Hinds County Circuit Court that Mississippi Swindle “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 offical duties, but instead to advance his personal political ambitions.”
The argument about whether White’s statements fall within the scope of his official duties as Auditor could impact whether the state, or White personally, bears responsibility for his defense in the case. It could also raise issues related to the application of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine which often shields public officials from liability when they are acting in the course and scope of their official responsibility.
The dispute over White’s defense does not occur in a vacuum. Both Fitch and White are frequently mentioned in the same sentence as potential candidates for governor in 2027. Other names being bandied about in political circles include businessman and philanthropist Thomas Duff, former Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Congressman Trent Kelly, and former Congressman Gregg Harper.
While the Attorney General’s decision and White’s response could be completely apolitical, these types of exchanges have a way of resulting in battle lines, particularly when big prizes are on the horizon (albeit a horizon far, far away).
Governor Tate Reeves’ term will last through January of 2028.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s letter, first made public by Front Office Sports and additional information related to the arguments being made on behalf of Brett Favre in his pending defamation suit against White.