The Mississippi Supreme Court declined to intervene Wednesday in the state Department of Human Services’ ongoing civil lawsuit seeking to hold Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Brett Favre liable as a beneficiary of massive welfare fraud scandal admitted to by others.
Though Favre has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing, several others have pleaded guilty to various offenses, including former Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) director John Davis and Nancy New, a non-profit director who admittedly used millions of dollars in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds to construct a volleyball stadium at Favre’s alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, and to promote an anti-concussion drug produced by biotech company Prevacus, a company Favre had invested in.
The ongoing lawsuit was not just filed against Favre. It named as defendants dozens of entities and other individuals, including Davis and New.
After Hinds County Circuit Judge Faye Peterson refused in April to remove Favre as a defendant, his lawyers — former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann and attorneys with Herschmann’s former firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP — went to the state’s high court.
In mid-May, Favre’s lawyers filed a petition for interlocutory appeal. In that filing, the attorneys asserted that the petition should be granted, as it would “advance this case’s termination and enable the parties and the circuit court to avoid the exceptional expense of litigating meritless claims.”
The petition called the state’s attempt to hold Favre liable under the Mississippi Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) “utterly meritless”:
In its original complaint, Plaintiff Mississippi Department of Human Services (“MDHS”) alleged that Favre had improperly received MDHS’s welfare funds—claims it was forced to withdraw after Favre filed a motion to dismiss showing that after being informed that the funds at issue (funds he had properly received under a contract with a non-profit company to render promotional services) were welfare funds, he voluntarily repaid those very funds—as MDHS and Public Auditor Shad White who instigated this lawsuit well knew. Nonetheless, eager to keep Favre in the lawsuit because of the publicity that generates (which Public Auditor White has used to advance his political ambitions), MDHS filed an amended complaint asserting an entirely new claim: that Favre is liable, not because he received any welfare-related funds, but because a supposedly improper transfer of MDHS funds—a transfer carried out by MDHS itself and structured and approved by government officials and lawyers, including the Attorney General—was for his “benefit” under the UFTA, supposedly by relieving him of an oral “handshake” agreement that he supposedly made in 2017 to raise funds for a volleyball center at the University of Southern Mississippi (“Southern Miss”).
None of this is true—among other things, the claim that Favre made any such oral “handshake” agreement is negated by official contemporaneous records, and MDHS itself admits that a large portion of the transferred funds it seeks to recover from Favre was used for purposes other than the center. In any event, MDHS’s legal arguments are utterly meritless.
In a motion to dismiss filed last November, Herschmann similarly laid blame solely at the feet of MDHS and said that “Brett Favre has done nothing wrong.”
“MDHS does not and cannot allege that he did, and its claims against him and his company must be dismissed. It is apparent that MDHS has sued Favre, a Mississippi and national celebrity, in an effort to deflect responsibility for its own egregious wrongdoing in allowing $94 million of its public funds to be misspent—funds for which MDHS itself admits it was ‘exclusively responsible,”” the motion said. “There is no factual or legal basis to include Favre in this lawsuit or for the torrent of the unjustified negative publicity concerning Favre that MDHS has outrageously instigated — publicity that properly should be directed at MDHS, not Favre.”
Herschmann said his client did not know he had received TANF money and “voluntarily returned” the only such funds he received after learning of their origin.
“Once Favre was informed that he had received TANF money, he voluntarily returned it, completing the repayment more than six months before MDHS filed this lawsuit, and leading State Auditor White to ‘applaud Mr. Favre for his good faith effort to make this right and make the taxpayers and TANF families whole,’” the motion continued. “In other words, Favre has already repaid to MDHS the only funds MDHS alleges he received. MDHS is so intent on trying to shift the blame for its own egregious misconduct that it ignores this and other dispositive facts that prove that its claims against Favre are not only meritless, but sanctionable.”
Despite the most recent arguments raised by the NFL legend’s lawyers, the Mississippi Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Favre’s petition.
“After due consideration, the panel finds the petition for interlocutory appeal should be denied,” the brief order said. “IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Brett Favre’s Petition for Interlocutory Appeal is hereby denied.”
Law&Crime reached out to Herschmann for comment on the ruling.
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