CHARLESTON -– After the latest round of campaign finance reports, private attorneys who were hired to do state work by West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw have given more than 40 percent of the amount he has raised.
McGraw raised a little more than $9,000 in the most recent campaign reporting period, with $2,000 more coming from private attorneys he's appointed special assistant attorneys general. Figures from his first report showed $36,000 from SAAGs.
McGraw has raised $93,825 total, with $38,000 coming from SAAGs.
"These firms often reap millions in legal fees, while contributing tens of thousands of dollars to the Attorney General's election efforts, giving the unseemly appearance of a pay-to-play arrangement," said Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
Heath also says McGraw is using settlement funds to promote his name. McGraw recently announced a series of workshops around the state funded by a national settlement with mortgage service providers worth $25 billion.
"It's telling that each year Darrell McGraw is up for re-election, his office's spending on 'consumer education' ads that promote his name seems to be much higher than in non-election years," Heath said.
"West Virginians deserve to know how much in state funds the Attorney General is spending on television and radio promotions this election year, as well as whom he is appointing to represent the state in lucrative legal contracts."
McGraw and Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes have defended their hiring practices for years, saying the State would not be able to earn large settlements and jury awards without the expertise of outside counsel.
"Think of the terms," Hughes has said. "We don't know how long we want you to work, or how much it will cost you, or how much you'll be paid. The attorneys selected are highly skilled, and have the capital and the infrastructure to try large cases.
"Any judicial officer receives contributions from the bar, but Attorney General McGraw does not appoint special assistant attorneys general based on campaign contributions."
Those firms that saw employees and their spouses contribute to McGraw's 2012 campaign are:
* Bailey & Glasser, a Charleston firm that gave $7,000 and was previously hired for a case against prescription drug retailers like Wal-Mart over the price of generic drugs;
* Berthold Law Office, the Charleston firm of Robert Berthold that gave $1,000 and was hired for McGraw's case against Johnson & Johnson over its prescription drug Risperdal;
* Bucci, Bailey & Javins, a Charleston firm that gave $5,000 and was hired for a case against Visa and MasterCard;
* DiTrapano, Barrett & DiPiero, a Charleston firm that gave $2,500 and was hired for a case against OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and a case against Bank of America;
* Fitzsimmons Law Offices, a Wheeling firm that gave $3,000 and was hired for a case against Marsh and McLennan and AIG;
* Frankovitch, Anetakis, Colantonio and Simon, a Weirton firm that gave $3,000 and was hired for a case against Cooper Wiring Devices and Leviton Manufacturing (the appointment was dropped when the companies sued McGraw over the hires) and a case against Comcast;
* The Giatras Law Firm, the Charleston firm of Troy Giatras that gave $2,000 and was hired for a case against Marsh and McLennan and AIG, a case against Capital Finance and a case against Eli Lilly & Co. over the prescription drug Zyprexa;
* Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler, a Charleston firm that gave $1,000 that was hired for the Risperdal case and another case against several financial service companies, including Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch;
* Powell & Majestro, a Charleston firm that gave $1,000 and was hired for a case against Cross Country Bank and for an investigation into the Variable Annuities Life Insurance Co.;
* Goldberg Law Office, the Charleston office of Robert Goldberg that gave $500 and was hired for the Risperdal case;
* Druckman Law Office, the Charleston office of William Druckman, who was hired for the Purdue Pharma case while at his former firm and gave $1,000;
* Toriseva Law Office, the Wheeling office of Teresa Toriseva, who was hired for the Visa/MasterCard case and gave $1,000.
* Tiano O'Dell, a Charleston firm that gave $2,000 and was hired for a case against Bank of America; and
* Cook, Hall & Lampros, an Atlanta firm that gave $8,000 and was hired for the case against Bank of America.
The Cook firm has another connection. Edward Shuff Cook is the nephew by marriage of former state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, Darrell's brother.
It wasn't the first time McGraw hired Cook. In 2001, while at Provost Umphrey, Cook was hired for a case involving the law firm Steptoe & Johnson.
Many of the firms are longtime contributors of McGraw's. The contributions of Toriseva and Druckman were the most recent.
McGraw is facing Republican Patrick Morrisey, an attorney who works in Washington, D.C., and lives in Harpers Ferry, in the general election.
McGraw's re-election victories in 2004 and 2008 were both by less than 1 percentage point.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.