CHARLESTON – The Charleston Gazette has filed a lawsuit seeking to have West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey turn over documents related to an ongoing case against a drug company.
The Gazette filed the lawsuit Thursday in Kanawha Circuit Court against Morrisey. Morrisey’s wife, Denise Henry, lobbies for Cardinal Health, and Morrisey has recused himself from the case and had others in his office handle the matter.
Cardinal Health executives donated to Morrisey’s 2012 election campaign, and the company gave money to Morrisey’s inauguration party in early 2013. Morrisey’s office took control of the case when he took office from former AG Darrell McGraw, who originally filed the case alleging Cardinal had helped spawn a prescription drug problem in southern West Virginia by supplying excessive pain medication in the area.
“The Gazette’s lawsuit follows 11 months of refusals by Morrisey to release records that might show whether he took part in decisions about the Cardinal Health case,” a Gazette story states. “The newspaper requested the documents under the state Freedom of Information Act. Morrisey has identified four, and up to eight, ‘potentially responsive’ documents. But his lawyers have repeatedly argued that Morrisey can keep the records secret, citing ‘attorney-client privilege’ and other exemptions under state law.”
The newspaper alleges that because Morrisey has stepped aside from the lawsuit, he can’t use the attorney-client privilege as an excuse to not supply the records. The Gazette, which is being represented by Charleston attorney Pat McGinley, wants a judge to review the documents in question and force Morrisey to release them.
“The public records requested … represent an important matter concerning public issues of the highest interest, including the integrity of high government officials,” the lawsuit states, according to the Gazette news story.
Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan said the AG's office had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit at 1 p.m. Thursday, but she did offer a brief response.
“We believe that government should be open and transparent and always seek to be very responsive to public requests, but we cannot allow the Gazette to jeopardize the attorney-client privilege," she said in a statement. "The attorney-client privilege is the bedrock of our legal system and must be protected.
"We will not allow the Gazette to destroy that privilege because it would compromise the integrity of our state’s legal system and put at risk the state’s ability to enforce its laws.”
In its complaint, the Gazette also says it wants to stop Morrisey from refusing to disclose information requested under the Freedom of Information Act. It claims Morrisey’s office rejected a request last year for emails about the Cardinal lawsuit, saying the documents wouldn’t be released “if they exist.”
The newspaper claims Morrisey’s office uses “boiler-plate” statements when rejecting FOIA requests with “exemptions that make it impossible to determine the true basis for such denial.” It also says Morrisey’s office allows people to visually inspect requested documents “but not retain, photograph or copy” them. It says state law doesn’t permit officials to impose such copying bans.