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Hood received contributions from law firm involved in student loan lawsuit

LAWSUIT: From left, Mississippi Center for Justice Consumer Protection Division Director Charles Lee and Advocacy Director Beth Orlansky and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announce a lawsuit against the nation's largest student loan lender for what they term deceptive trade practices. Photo by the Mississippi Attorney General's Office

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood received campaign contributions from one of the law firms involved in his lawsuit against student loan provider Navient, according to an examination of records by Mississippi Matters.

The Minneapolis-based law firm Zimmerman Reed LLP gave Hood a $7,500 contribution on December 18. The firm is part of a lawsuit filed in Hinds County Chancery Court on July 17 against Navient, which is also fighting lawsuits from the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the states of Washington and Illinois.

The suit alleges that the student loan giant — which has 12 million borrowers and $300 billion in loans to students — used deceptive trade practices that Hood and others say cost borrowers $4 billion in additional student loan debt. Hood accuses Navient of misleading borrowers about payment options that resulted in higher monthly payments that many could not afford.

The state has retained Abraham and Associates as lead counsel in the case on a contingency basis, with Zimmerman Reed LLP, the Mississippi Center for Justice and Robert McDuff involved as well.

CONTRIBUTION: Zimmerman Reed LLP gave Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood a $7,500 contribution in December.

For years, Hood has received campaign contributions — either directly or through a political action committee acting as an intermediary — from law firms that receive litigation contracts for lawsuits against drug manufacturers, insurance companies, banks, tobacco companies, BP and Microsoft.

Law firms have earned $108,684,557 since 2009 representing the state at the behest of the AG's office.

Zimmerman Reed LLP is one of many law firms that gave Hood generous campaign contributions, either directly, or to the Democratic Attorneys General Association — a left-leaning political action committee that raises campaign cash for Democratic candidates for attorney general posts nationwide.

DAGA has contributed heavily to Hood over the years. The group contributed $850,000 in 2016, $850,000 in 2015, $300,000 in 2014, $550,000 in 2012 and $850,000 in 2008.

Zimmerman Reed LLP gave $15,000 to the DAGA in 2016 and $20,000 in 2014. In 2011 and 2013, the law firm contributed a total of $20,000 to DAGA.

In 2012, Zimmerman Reed PLLP earned more than $405,000 in contingency fees from its legal work against Hitachi on behalf of Mississippi for alleged price fixing on liquid-crystal display panels. In 2014, it received more than $1.1 million for legal work against LG Electronics, also accused of alleged price-fixing on LCD panels.

It also received more than $465,000 in 2015 for legal work against Chi Mei Optoelectronics Inc. and $1.3 million in a lawsuit against AU Optronics for alleged price-fixing on LCD screens.

The companies settled with 24 states in 2012.

By law, contingency fees for attorneys working for the attorney general are capped at 25 percent for awards up to $25 million, 20 percent for awards between $10 million and $15 million, 15 percent for awards between $15 million and $20 million, 10 percent for awards between $20 million and $25 million, and five percent for any award exceeding $25 million.

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