If you can’t trust a trustee, who can you trust?
Governor Ross Barnett
Special Fiduciary Steve Simpson set off alarm bells over here at SRHS Watch HQ with his comments on WLOX. That caused the staff to start digging and since Simpson ran against Jim Hood for attorney general last go-around, we didn’t have to dig too deep. We are grateful to the reporters and publications who have already clear cut a path of research that calls in question Simpson’s suitability as a Special Fiduciary.
Statements to WLOX
Simpson is now part of the campaign to change the definitions and hallmarks of this case. Echoing attorney Jim Reeves, Simpson explains that retirees will get 100%, but that 100% only means 100% of the missed payments by Singing River. In the year-long battle, the rallying cry for retirees has been 100% – meaning 100% of their promised retirement benefits. Special Master Britt Singletary should have reasonably known that a statement to retirees to sleep easy, as “very shortly, there’ll be an announcement and it will be 100 %” would be misleading. The campaign continues under Simpson’s stewardship.
Simpson’s duties are separate those of any attorney, special master, or judge. Simpson’s duty is to recover as much money to the trust as is feasible. When a so-called “special fiduciary” seeks to shirk and reduce his responsibility (and that of defendants) just days after assuming the job, it speaks volumes. Simpson is already seeking to aid in reducing Singing River’s liability to the trust.
Past Fiscal Foibles
While Simpson was campaigning for AG, it was discovered that the taxes on his $378,000 home had gone unpaid. Even after declaring his candidacy and knowing an army of oppo researchers would be coming after him, Simpson still did not pay the taxes.
Later in the campaign, Supertalk Mississippi’s Paul Gallo asked Simpson if he was paid up on his taxes – Simpson indicated he was. The Clarion Ledger immediately contacted the Harrison County Tax Collector, who stated the taxes were still unpaid. Simpson refused to comment and the taxes were paid later that day.
The CL’s veteran reporter Jerry Mitchell has Simpson’s quote as “I’m not commenting on that story any more with you.”
After finally paying his taxes, Simpson blamed his fiscal irresponsibility on being hit with a surprise tax bill as a cash-strapped state employee. Indeed, Simpson had long been a state employee, serving as Circuit Judge for Harrison County from 2000 until 2008 when Haley Barbour appointed him Public Safety Commissioner. Prior to judge he served as an assistant district attorney under Cono Caranna.
In the course of the media investigation, it was revealed that despite being unable to pay his taxes in a timely manner, that Simpson managed to keep a 44 foot yacht afloat.
Not Able to Comprehend Financial Contracts
Simpson claims that when he re-financed his mortgage, he was unaware that he would now be responsible for paying his own taxes. If Simpson isn’t diligent enough to understand contract requirements of a common financial transaction for himself and his family, how can retirement plan participants expect Simpson to understand the complexities of a $140 million pension plan? We have previously provided detail on this in our post “Is Simpson Qualified to Oversee Pension?”
Simpson Cashes In
Simpson resigned as public safety commissioner just 11 days after veteran investigative journalist Patsy Brumfield raised questions of his violating the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act is a federal law that prohibits those who administer federal funds from running for public office.
After being forced to resign from office, cash-strapped Simpson needed new employ. He wound up with a consulting contract at L1 Identity Solutions. L1 is the company that makes and operates the drivers’ license kiosks – a contract that was overseen by Simpson as Public Safety Commissioner. He never told the press how much he was being compensated and claimed that his contract had an exclusion for work in Mississippi, which he asserted eliminated any conflicts of interest. The Jackson Free Press originally covered this story.
Willing to Ignore Code of Judicial Conduct?
For this we quote en bloc from Cottonmouth’s reporting:
In 2003, Stephen Simpson, while serving as a circuit court judge, testified as a character witness for a buddy of his who was standing trial in Biloxi for raping and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. The girl babysat the defendant’s daughter, and the defendant was the girl’s softball coach. According to the Sun Herald, the girl alleged that the defendant had raped her multiple times.
So then-Judge Simpson was called by the defense to speak on the accused man’s behalf. (Which, by the way, according to Code of Judicial Conduct, probably should have been prohibited by the presiding judge in the case because of Simpson’s potential influence as a sitting judge. More on that below.) Despite the girl’s testimony, in which she stated that her coach had sex with her at his home after asking, “Do you want to get this over with?”, and a taped phone conversation in which the man abruptly changed the subject of their relationship – a Harrison County jury found him not guilty after six hours of deliberation. Can’t help but wonder if Simpson’s appearance on the stand influenced those jurors. (Sun Herald articles here.)
If you don’t believe me that a sitting judge can perhaps unfairly influence a jury when testifying as a character witness, then you might believe Mississippi’s Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commentary to Canon 2(B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct reads in pertinent part as follows:
A judge must not testify voluntarily as a character witness because to do so may lend the prestige of the judicial office in support of the party for whom the judge testifies. Moreover, when a judge testifies as a witness, a lawyer who regularly appears before the judge may be placed in the awkward position of cross-examining the judge. A judge may, however, testify when properly summoned. Except in unusual circumstances where the demands of justice require, a judge should discourage a party from requiring the judge to testify as a character witness.
Potential Conflicts of Interest
We have previously detailed Simpson’s campaign donors and their ties to the current Singing River litigation.
It should be noted that Simpson’s brother, former state Representative Jim Simpson, is a partner at Wise, Carter, Child, & Caraway. Other partners from Wise, Carter have previously represented Singing River in its battle over Harrison HMA’s certificate of need to build a new hospital. Jim Simpson represents the Harrison County Utility Authority (HCUA). Sean Anthony, has pleaded guilty to bribing members of the HCUA. Anthony is represented by Joe Sam Owen – who also represents Roy Williams. You can see our post “Six Degrees of Sean Anthony” for more information.
How Did He Get the Job?
All this raises the question of how Simpson came to be appointed as Special Fiduciary.