To the editor:
This letter is in response to an article by Steve Korris in the Jan. 2, 2006, edition of The West Virginia Record, regarding the Attorney General's office retaining legal fees which it earned as a result of our work in bringing the state a settlement of $1.6 billion in what is popularly known as the tobacco litigation.
The application for attorney fees was made pursuant to the grant provisions of the Tobaccor Master Settlement Agreement, which was ratified by the West Virginia Legislature when it enacted W.Va.Code16-9N-1et seq. on March 12, 1999, and thereafter ratified by the governor when he signed the legislation.
Mr. Korris' article is based upon the mistaken assumption that our attorney fees, totaling $714,634.65, could either have come to our office or to the state's general revenue fund. To the contrary, the choice here was whether this office would keep the money, which would then be used to fund other antitrust actions brought on behalf of the people of West Virginia, or whether the tobacco companies would keep the money.
The Master Settlement Agreement requires that attorney fees and costs be used solely to reimburse the office for the provision of legal services. The attorney fees were completely separate and apart from the amount the companies agreed to pay the state.
Mr. Allred's audit report, which criticized our three-year plan for reimbursement of legal fees and expenses, did not find that the plan violated any laws or regulations. Further, the audit found not one single exception to the bills and invoices coming through the Attorney General's office. Given the magnitude of cases that the office handles, and the fact that we funciton as a large law firm handling thousands of matters and billing clients for our services, it is remarkable that not one mistake was found in Mr. Allred's comprehensive review.
Reporter Korris' article erroneously states that the Antitrust Enforcement Fund has been moved from control of the attorney general to control of the treasurer. To the contrary, this office is responsible for distribution of the money our attorneys bring to the state, a large portion of which is distributed to individuals and communities in West Virginia.
All anititrust law enforcement actions taken on behalf of the people of West Virginia are funded solely thorugh the Attorney General's work in enforcing the state's laws.
This office receives no special fees or taxpayer money from the state for this law enforcement activity.
Frances A. Hughes
Chief Deputy Attorney General