CHARLESTON -- The war of words between House Speaker Tim Miley and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey continues.
On Wednesday, Miley responded to Morrisey's concerns over a bill directly aimed at his office by saying the AG should come a hearing to express his concerns.
In his response, Miley noted that Morrisey did not attend Monday's House Judiciary Committee hearing on House Bill 4490, also known as the Attorney General Ethics and Accountability Act. It passed the panel on a 13-7 vote.
“It is unfortunate that the Attorney General did not attend the Judiciary Committee meeting during which HB4490 was discussed, so that he could convey what he characterizes as deep concerns about the legislation,” Miley, a Democrat from Harrison County, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Whenever legislation affecting a public office is considered by a committee, it is standard procedure for the officeholder to closely follow the bill’s progress and attend committee meetings in order to answer members’ questions.”
Miley said that instead of attending the hearing, Morrisey met with Republican members of the committee Monday to convey his position.
“This legislation is intended to set a new, much more appropriate and high standard for West Virginia attorney generals of the future, and members of the House Leadership value Mr. Morrisey’s perspective,” Miley said. “We want to help the West Virginia Attorney General be more effective in criminal and civil investigations and in targeting corruption and violations of our state’s consumer protection laws by ensuring proper management of taxpayer funds and eliminating any hint of a conflict of interest, which could only serve to undo the office’s purpose.”
Meanwhile, Morrisey responded Thursday and said he would attend a hearing as long as all Constitutional officers also attend and discuss how ideas contained within HB4490 would impact their offices if similarly applied.
“I am open to attending a hearing with legislators to discuss our office’s significant constitutional and legal concerns with House Bill 4490 as long as all other constitutional officers attend and discuss how these standards would impact their offices if similarly applied," Morrisey said in a statement. "Major reforms of government should not be limited to one office or one office holder.
"If Speaker Miley and House Democrats want to truly have a discussion about ways to reform government and improve accountability, then the conversation must inherently involve all state leaders, not simply the lone Republican."
Morrisey said such reforms shouldn't be limited to just one office or officeholder.
“If Speaker Miley and House Democrats want to truly have a discussion about ways to reform government and improve accountability, then the conversation must inherently involve all state leaders, not simply the lone Republican," Morrisey wrote. “The invitation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee under these circumstances is akin to asking someone to appear before a kangaroo court.
"The committee passed the bill earlier this week and now seeks to have a hearing on it. It is backwards logic and completely out of step with how a legislature should function. Additionally, no fiscal note has ever been requested on this legislation, even though it would likely cost the state many millions of dollars in increased legal fees and bankrupt our consumer protection division."
“I welcome the opportunity to have an open and honest discussion with lawmakers and all other Constitutional officers about the proper authority of state elected officials and ways that we may apply new ethical standards to all offices. Given the lack of accountability and questionable ethics revealed in the recent Department of Agriculture audit, I have deep concerns about the overall efficiency, effectiveness, and structure of state government and the existing ethical standards in place. Far-reaching government and ethics reforms would greatly benefit the citizens of West Virginia.”
Miley addressed Morrisey's concerns that his office is being targeted while other constitutional officers aren't.
In his statement, Miley said HB4490 is focused on the AG's office because among the West Virginia constitutional officers, the Attorney General is unique. Being the legal representative of the state of West Virginia, the Attorney General is both an executive and judicial officer who must balance constitutional duties with the attorney-client relationship.
“Attorney General Morrisey is mistaken in believing our effort codify guidelines for operation of the office Attorney General is a personal attack,” Miley said. “This legislation is being pursued to address the office of Attorney General, to curtail any future Attorney General that may have conflicting views with the policy leaders of state government.”
During the House Judiciary meeting Monday, HB4490 was amended to add a requirement that an Attorney General consult with leaders of the executive or legislative branches prior to filing an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief.
“I certainly do not object to the current Attorney General’s efforts to protect the coal industry and our Second Amendment rights, but what would happen if a subsequent Attorney General instead files briefs to limit our Second Amendment rights or argues against our coal industry?” Miley said. “It is imperative that in such cases, the policy leaders of this state speak with one voice.”
The 2013 West Virginia Supreme Court case Discovery v. Nibert, in which the Court recognized inherent common law powers of the Attorney General, has been cited in discussions over the legislation. In that case, the Court also authorized the Legislature to enact limitations upon the Attorney General’s common law power ("The Office of Attorney General retains inherent common law powers, when not expressly restricted or limited by statute.” ).
“Our bill only limits the Attorney General’s powers in two areas: expenditure of state monies and amicus filings,” Miley said. “I would very much like to hear Mr. Morrisey’s specific concerns regarding the unconstitutionality of this important piece of legislation, so we can consider them prior to enactment.”
Miley also provided emails he received from representatives of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce last month proposing legislation on this topic.
“Given the input we had received from the Chamber on this matter, I was surprised today to see an email to all House members from state Chamber President Steve Roberts opposing HB4490,” Miley said. “I want to make sure members know that I consulted with and received recommendations from his organization."