CHARLESTON – The state Senate on Friday passed a bill regarding how the state Attorney General's office hires private attorneys.
Senate Bill 291 passed on a 27-7 vote. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.
The bill essentially codifies much of what current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office has done regarding the use of outside counsel since he took over the office in 2013, such as using a competitive bidding process for the appointment of these "special assistant attorneys general" and bringing more transparency to the process. It also includes language regarding the AG's office providing reports on certain legal causes and matters to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse hailed the Senate's passage of the bill.
“We applaud Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and members of the State Senate for their leadership on this very important issue," WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said Friday. "The state Senate took a significant step to shed light on the practice of awarding contingency fee contracts to outside plaintiffs’ lawyers who do work for the state.
"Attorney General Morrisey has already implemented a policy that has saved our state millions of dollars. This legislation will ensure that future attorneys general continue to practice this good government policy."
During his 2012 campaign, Morrisey unveiled an outside counsel policy requiring transparency and competitive bidding for the appointment of private attorneys to represent the state and its agencies in legal proceedings. His office says the policy has saved nearly $4 million since it was introduced.
The use of outside counsel was a key part of Morrisey's campaign against former Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
“It wasn’t too long ago that former Attorney General Darrell McGraw abused the outside counsel process to award friends and campaign donors with lucrative contingency fee contracts,"Stauffer said. "The legislation that passed the state Senate today ensures that West Virginians get the best representation, while also providing transparency for the process of hiring outside counsel when needed.
"We encourage the House of Delegates to take the bill up and pass it.”