CHARLESTON —Even though a House of Delegates bill targeting state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was declared dead before the end of the recently finished legislative session, a group of 36 attorneys general from across the country sent a letter denouncing the measure.
House Bill 4490, also known as the Attorney General Ethics and Accountablity Act, passed the House on a 52-44 vote in late February, but the Senate Judiciary Committee never took up the measure.
But last week before the end of the regular legislative session, the National Association of Attorneys General and a bipartisan group of attorneys general representing 36 states and territories sent a letter to West Virginia lawmakers expressing concerns about the bill.
The letter, authored by Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, said HB 4490 was unprecedented in the restrictions it places on an attorney general.
By garnering 36 signatories on the letter, the position expressed becomes national policy for the organization.
The letter specifically highlights the section of the bill that would have required the Attorney General to withdraw from any matter in which the office holder or member of his or her immediate family received economic compensation and appoint outside counsel to instead handle the case.
“We are not aware of any statute that imposes such a broadly sweeping prohibition on an attorney general’s office—at the state or federal levels,” the attorneys general wrote. “Nor are we aware of any state’s high court — which traditionally regulates the practice of law — having imposed such a principle of disqualification either through rules of practice or judicial opinion. The absence of such a prohibition is unsurprising, as it would plainly discourage experienced attorneys from seeking the office of attorney general.”
The letter also raised concern about language that would have prohibited the entire Attorney General’s office from ever representing a state agency, official, or political subdivision if the Attorney General asserts and legal position that is contrary to the legal opinion ever taken by a state agency, official or political subdivision the office represents.
“It is well-recognized across the country that a state attorney general is uniquely permitted to represent state agencies, officials and subdivisions with conflicting viewpoints — even in the same litigation,” the letter stated. “As many courts have explained, this dual representation must be permitted because of the ‘uniqueness of the attorney general’s office and its responsibility as the constitutional legal officer of the state to represent various and sometimes conflicting interests of numerous government agencies.”
The letter was signed by 36 attorneys general representing the states and territories of Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Of those signatories, 14 are Democrats, 21 are Republican and one, the Attorney General of Guam, is a nonpartisan office.
CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates on Monday passed a controversial bill that some say directly targets state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
The House voted 52-44 to pass House Bill 4490, also known as the Attorney General Ethics and Accountability Act.
Morrisey and others have called the bill nothing but partisan politics on behalf of Democratic legislative leaders. Morrisey said the passage of the bill would create a constitutional crisis.
“The Office of the Attorney General is deeply disappointed that the West Virginia House of Delegates today passed unconstitutional and highly partisan legislation,” Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan said Monday evening. “This bill targets one person in state government while not imposing similar standards on legislators or other Constitutional offices.
“House Bill 4490, as it currently stands, will cost the state many millions of dollars, jeopardize existing investigations and lawsuits, and compromises the Attorney General’s ability to fight for the Second Amendment and jobs in West Virginia. If this bill passes, it will plunge the state into a constitutional crisis.”
House Speaker Tim Miley, said the bill passed Monday contains “two basic elements: the proper management of taxpayer settlement funds, and procedures for an attorney general to follow when faced with a conflict of interest.”
“When you strip away personalities and politics, it comes down to the simple question: Is this good public policy?” Miley said in a statement. “I truly believe this is.”
The revised version of the bill that passed Monday did not include some sections of the original that Republicans and the state Chamber of Commerce had opposed.
Morrisey and Miley sparred via press statements last week about the measure, and Morrisey declined an invitation to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to express his concerns in person.
He did ask supporters — via Facebook — to contact lawmakers and ask them to vote against the bill.
“Blatant disregard for the (West Virginia) Constitution,” he posted over the weekend. “The public is watching who votes for H.B. 4490, a pure partisan attempt to target the one person looking under the hood and not afraid to take on the establishment. How will people who vote for this bill defend it when it puts at risk ongoing investigations and cases? The bill also guts our consumer protection efforts.”