AG Darrell McGraw
Delegate Bob Ashley
CHARLESTON – West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw is speaking out about advertisements calling for support for legislation that would require his office to bid out to contract private lawyers.
"The people who are financing this onslaught against us are the people against whom we have sued in the past as wrongdoers or even outlaws," McGraw told MetroNews on its TalkLine radio program Wednesday.
Despite the fact that the legislation appeared all but dead as Saturday's end of the session drew closer, a member of the House of Delegates urged his peers to take a closer look at the practices of the AG's office.
Delegate Bob Ashley, R-Roane spoke on the House floor about the office's hiring of outside attorneys and about the distribution of settlement funds from the OxyContin lawsuit.
He mentioned the 2002 report from the state legislative auditor that suggested changes to the way the AG's office operates.
"The legislative auditor recommended we act four years ago, and the situation has only gotten worse," Ashley said. "This Legislature is composed of dedicated and creative people of both political parties, and I know it's possible for us to address the problem before we adjourn later this week. All we need is the will to act."
In his speech, Ashley also discussed how the AG's Office was representing state agencies in the OxyContin case.
"The real damage is that the people on whose behalf he (McGraw) brought the Purdue Pharma case got nothing," Ashley said. "Who are those people? They are all around us: Medicaid recipients under DHHR, injured workers and premium payers under Workers' Compensation and public employees and teachers under PEIA.
"The money that should have gone to them was sent instead to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Fund which, by the way, has never been established by statute, and a healthy $3.3 million to his attorney friends. To add insult to injury, the attorneys are to be paid faster than the state."
The television ads by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce urge residents to contact their legislators about the so-called Sunshine Act.
One Chamber ad features a scene of a sunrise and says, "We must restore accountability to West Virginia taxpayers ...We can put an end to the backroom deals and give West Virginia taxpayers the accountability they deserve."
However, the proposal seemed to be dead as reports indicated that House Speaker Bob Kiss didn't want to take up the idea – even amended to other legislation – because the Senate refused to address the plan.
However, one bill still being considered would allow the Legislature oversee for how the AG's office uses settlement money.
"Legislation designed to accomplish this, H.B. 4767, got sidetracked last week in the House of Delegates," Chamber President Steve Roberts said. "The bill, which was introduced with bipartisan support, then approved by the House Finance Committee and then was pending on Second Reading, got pulled last week from the House floor calendar. Unfortunately, that action killed the bill."
However, Roberts said the Chamber is working to find alternative ways to keep key legislative provisions alive. He noted that strong support and interest on this matter was demonstrated by the members who attended a recent membership meeting.
"The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce shares the viewpoints and concerns of many lawmakers, particularly regarding McGraw's current procedures and practices of hiring outside legal services without any public scrutiny or oversight," he added. "This situation gives rise to the appearance of backroom deals for McGraw's friends and campaign contributors."
McGraw, meanwhile, accused the Chamber of being a front for big tobacco.
"Nobody knows who they are or where they come from but we only know where the money comes from which is, of course, the tobacco company, the credit card companies, all the people that we have sued," he said on TalkLine.
In a press release, the Chamber says, "None of these dollars from this settlement is being provided to these agencies, which could, among other uses, be appropriated over the next several years to obtain an additional $30 million in federal Medicaid funds."
McGraw says that is false.
"Almost all of the money that the Attorney General's office takes in goes into the general fund," he told TalkLine. "A lot of people don't know that, or into special funds the Legislature has created."
In addition to the Chamber's ads, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse produced a few direct mail pieces that were sent to their members and to some other citizens.
"There is a lot of communication among our 30,000-plus members and other citizens about this out-of-control attorney general," said Steve Cohen, executive director of CALA, a non-profit watchdog group committed to judicial reform.
One of CALA's fliers features newspaper headlines about the topic with larger type that asks, "Who can you trust with West Virginia's money?"
The other flier shows a man in a business suit wearing a gas mask. Above his head are the words, "Something Stinks in the Attorney General's Office …"