John O'Brien Feb. 21, 2013, 3:09am
CHARLESTON – State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made his first budget proposal to the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 20, asking for a supplemental appropriation to fix a phone system that's left 25 attorneys without voicemail.
Morrisey, who defeated longtime AG Darrell McGraw in November, also recently outlined a new ethics plan that forbids the use of funds on self-promoting trinkets. He also promised to turn over money gained in settlements or court victories to the state’s general fund if he is provided with enough money to sustain a strong Consumer Protection Division.
“Without question, our state budget is under duress, and we need to be prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Morrisey said.
“If the Consumer Protection Division is to sustain itself and properly staff consumer cases to recover potential monies owed to the State, it must have enough funding to properly investigate, prosecute and staff matters over the course of the litigation, which can take several years.”
Morrisey wrote a letter to members of the Finance Committee on Feb. 19. It says the ethical reforms were made to ensure the office runs in a professional manner and to eliminate wasteful spending of taxpayer resources.
“My office also is working to implement structural changes to help eliminate inefficiencies, allowing the Office of Attorney General to be a better steward of taxpayer monies,” the letter says.
“We are seeking to accomplish many of these goals with an eye toward the tight budget conditions currently facing the State.
“Because of the dire condition of may core systems within the office, I am seeking a supplemental appropriation to address an obsolete phone system in the office, as well as two improvement packages that would resolve significant areas of deficiencies and inefficiencies in technology which greatly hamper the office’s ability to provide timely, competent and efficient legal representation.”
Morrisey says 25 attorneys in the Consumer Protection Division do not have voicemail. He added that calls within the office frequently get routed to the wrong employee.
Every other state office uses Microsoft Outlook and runs on a Microsoft platform, yet his office is equipped with a Novell program, which is no longer supported by the manufacturer, and GroupWise email, which is not compatible with most other email programs, Morrisey said.
Some of his ideas would save the State money in the long run, he added during the hearing. If the office institutes a competitive bidding program for hiring outside counsel, it could find a firm with a lower rate than if a no-bid contract is given out, he said.
So far, the office hasn’t hired outside counsel for any matter, though it has been asked to do so several times. Morrisey feels the office should handle any matter it can in-house.
Morrisey has admitted that it’s been a difficult transition since he took office. He also said approximately 20 members of McGraw’s staff left the office before he was sworn in, and another five to seven have left since he took over.
He emphasized moving from paper records to electronic data and asked for funds to hire an employee to do the scanning, as well as two more information technology employees.
“Collectively, the hardware and infrastructure will allow the office to purchase and operate legal practice management software that will dramatically increase the efficiency and overall operations of the Office of Attorney General,” he said.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at email@example.com.