What do the Mafia, Al Qaeda and the West Virginia Attorney General's office have in common?

When they're doing "business," communications are always face-to-face.

"That's how I operate," explained Chief Deputy AG Fran Hughes to our Chris Dickerson this week. "We have a lot of face-to-face meetings."

She means with the 25 or so plaintiff's attorneys deputized "special assistant" attorneys general by Darrell McGraw over the past few years. After reading of some of the easy settlement riches that many have reaped, we had to wonder -- just how just does one go about getting chosen as one of these lucky lawyers?

Does McGraw put out a request for proposals from law firms? Does his office do research on lawyers who might fit the bill? Do they conduct any interviews? Do any competitive analysis? Is there a set of stated criteria for the lawyers they hire?

With tens and potentially hundreds of millions in fees at the end of the rainbow, all compliments of the shock and awe benefit of suing with state power in your back pocket, the question is worth begging. Moreover, as most of the lawyers who have been chosen have also been major campaign contributors to McGraw, inquiring minds want to know -- are West Virginians really getting the best representation, or is it just the chummiest?

With this in mind, The Record filed a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) with McGraw's office asking for any documents related to the "special assistant AG" selection process. Do the lawyers send over resumes or briefs they've written? Do they provide testimonials to their aptitude? Are there any memos, meeting notes, letters or emails that might shed some light on how they pick and choose?

The answer: no. Not a one. The process is paperless. No paper. No paper trail. Hughes said that's not her style -- that she prefers meetings in the flesh. Word processing or digital communications? It's for the birds.

"People are too much into this e-mailing," Hughes opined.

Right.

It's bad that West Virginia's attorney general feels he can expand the budget and scope of his office as he pleases. And it's worse that he spends dollars corralled by such lawsuit crusades on self-serving pet projects of his choosing, rather than repairing the "damage" he alleges.

But that he's also bold enough to do all of this in secret -- unchecked and unafraid of ever being held accountable for his actions -- adds a layer of outrage that should frighten all West Virginians.

McGraw should start telling the truth about his relationships with the private lawyers he hires to "represent" taxpayers. Or the people should start looking for answers.

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