March 30, 2023, Mississippi – Three Mississippi news organizations — The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, The Mississippi Free Press, and Mississippi Today — filed a motion today to intervene in ongoing welfare fraud litigation to oppose former Governor Phil Bryant’s request to shield from public view any records, emails, and text messages he is required to produce relating to the University of Southern Mississippi volleyball facility, which was built while he was in office using millions of dollars in TANF welfare funds.
The motion was filed on behalf of the three news organizations by attorneys from the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) and the Center for Constitutional Rights in the state’s ongoing lawsuit in Hinds County Circuit Court. The lawsuit seeks to recoup tens of millions of dollars of misappropriated welfare funds meant to help struggling Mississippi families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The motion can be found here.
The news organizations oppose former Governor Bryant’s request to prevent public access to any records — including emails and text messages — he must produce in response to a subpoena from defendant Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC), which claims that Governor Bryant directed MCEC to provide TANF money to Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre to fund construction of the volleyball facility. The news organizations wish to review those records as part of their vital reporting on the lawsuit and the largest public fraud scandal in state history.
“Transparency is the path to meaningful accountability in a functioning democracy, and Mississippians are owed both,” said Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO of MCJ. “When reporting on this landmark case, our news outlets should not be prevented from reviewing relevant records created by elected officials while in office.”
“Generally, the subpoenaed records Governor Bryant seeks to keep confidential are or were public records under Mississippi’s Public Records Act,” said Paloma Wu, Deputy Director of Impact Litigation at MCJ and one of the lawyers in the case. “Governor Bryant occupied the highest office of public trust when public money was stolen; he should not prevent news outlets from reporting on what records produced in this case may say about it.”
“The local news organizations that we represent seek to vindicate Mississippians’ public interest in these documents as a measure of government accountability for the State’s systemic abuse of the TANF program — abuse that harmed Mississippi’s most vulnerable communities,” said Emily Early, Associate Director of the Southern Regional Office of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Former Governor Bryant must not be allowed to hide behind his baseless arguments for a protective order.”
In a joint news article published about their Motion to Intervene, the news organizations stated: “One of the basic duties of a free press is to hold public officials accountable and ensure that the government remains as open and transparent to the people it serves as possible. We are taking action in court as part of our ongoing efforts to get at the truth of one of the largest public scandals in our state’s history,” said Sam R. Hall of the Daily Journal, Donna Ladd of the Mississippi Free Press, and Adam Ganucheau of Mississippi Today.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.