CHARLESTON -- Reforming the way Attorney General Darrell McGraw hires outside counsel to file lawsuits on behalf of West Virginia is the message in a new ad campaign which began last week.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse launched its ad blitz just as release of an American Tort Reform Association survey that shows most Mountain State residents want more public disclosure from McGraw's office.
"Darrell McGraw thinks state government should be run in secret," the announcer in WV CALA's radio spot declares. "He's hiring personal injury lawyer friends and campaign contributors to file state lawsuits without telling us who he's hired, whether they're qualified and what they'll be paid. McGraw thinks business as usual is cutting secret deals with taxpayer money."
CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said his group's ads are meant to inform the public of what is going on the AG's office, or "the McGraw mess," as the radio ad calls it.
"We have a right to know what our elected officials are doing with our money and our government," Cohen said, adding that his group believes McGraw's dealings are part of a pattern in several states in which ATRA says "attorneys general are working hand-in-glove" with the lawsuit industry.
McGraw's chief deputy AG, however, says she is happy that CALA has the office in its crosshairs.
"We're proud a group like CALA is protesting us," Fran Hughes said Thursday. "That means we're doing something right."
"McGraw hires personal injury lawyers who bankroll his political machine and reap millions for themselves in legal fees," Cohen said. "McGraw office gave $3.3 million in fees to greedy personal injury lawyers, then used the remainder of the award for his own pet projects while his plaintiffs, we taxpayers, got nothing.
Cohen noted that after Hughes told lawmakers the AG's office would end the controversial practice of deciding on its own who gets money from settlements, McGraw handed out $1 million in the month after that.
"For several years our state leaders have considered legislation to rein in McGraw's giveaway of state money," says Cohen. "He hasn't stopped this questionable practice. It's time for our leaders to stop this abuse of public funds."
Hughes said CALA is not a grassroots organization as it claims. Rather, she said it is under the control of the tobacco industry and other big business.
"CALA is a sly deception designed to appeal broadly to hard-working people, and they equate lawsuit abuse to the efforts of injured people trying to recover damages from those responsible," she said. "This is nothing but a strategy that has been coordinated by the American Tort Reform Association and a PR consultant called APCO.
"CALA is a public relations smear and slaughter campaign. It's a secretly spawned network of fake citizens groups. They're just doing the bidding for corporate funders. This is anything but a grassroots.
"They just want to take away people's rights, their right to a jury trial, their right to seek compensation when someone is injured. They are selling and promoting the stripping away of people's rights to go after people who have hurt them."