John O'Brien Mar. 21, 2013, 10:23am
CHARLESTON – Two months into his first year on the job, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has announced a new policy for hiring private lawyers to represent the State.
Morrisey was critical of the way predecessor Darrell McGraw, the 20-year incumbent he defeated in November, handled outside counsel. He campaigned on making the process more transparent.
“This policy helps to bring much-needed order and transparency to an important process,” Morrisey said. “While I believe the team of talented lawyers who already work in the Attorney General’s Office will be able to handle most issues that arise, there are cases in which the use of outside counsel may be required.
“In those instances, we will use a competitive bidding process to make sure we get high-quality services at reasonable prices.”
Some contingency fee contracts given by McGraw were not subject to a bidding process and went to lawyers who contributed to his campaign fund.
Groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the American Tort Reform Association railed for years against McGraw’s policy for outside counsel. In 2010, CEI named him the fifth-worst state attorney general in the country.
And in ATRA’s annual Judicial Hellholes report, McGraw was always cited as a reason why the state made the list.
But McGraw’s chief deputy AG, Fran Hughes, defended the practice, saying if the office could not hire outside counsel it would not be able to hold huge corporations accountable for violations of the law.
During a budget hearing this year with legislators, Morrisey said a bidding process will ensure the State and its taxpayers will get the best deal.
A page on Morrisey’s website will allow the public to view:
-Written determinations from the attorney general regarding the need to appoint outside counsel;
-Requests for proposal seeking legal services from private attorneys to represent the State;
-Any payment of contingency fees to appointed outside counsel; and
-Notice of attorneys and/or law firms that have been previously approved to represent the State with regard to a particular area of law or subject matter.
Morrisey recently decided to continue with two lawsuits – against Pfizer and Nationwide – that were filed by outside counsel on behalf of McGraw’s office. Those same attorneys appear to be still representing the State.
Morrisey plans to implement the policy on April 15, with a public comment period starting after. The final policy will go into effect on July 16.
The legal reform group West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse was pleased with Morrisey’s news.
"This is a night-and-day contrast to the previous attorney general, Darrell McGraw, who abused the public trust by making backroom deals where he would appoint his big campaign contributors to file highly lucrative lawsuits on behalf of the state,” WV CALA Executive Director Greg Thomas said.
“Moreover, some state lawsuit settlement monies were improperly channeled to McGraw’s office fund. Many outside observers would agree that McGraw appeared to use his official office as if it were a taxpayer-funded, full-time political campaign office, with around-the-clock, state-funded advertising to prominently promote his name under the guise of consumer awareness.”
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.