Filed under "this controversy just won't go away," ex-Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore is now taking on his former West Virginia counterpart over his use of private lawyers on contingency.

Writing for Legal Times, Kilgore said that every time Darrell McGraw hires a private lawyer, "the public's trust in our system of government is further eroded."

"It's a real question whether public justice or private profit is the principal interest of outside counsel who are encouraging (McGraw) to bring this litigation," he wrote.

Deputy State Attorney General Fran Hughes insists her boss is merely "fulfilling" his role as the state's Chief Legal Officer. But we've argued for months on these pages that Darrell McGraw is consciously reinventing it, morphing the West Virginia Attorney General's office into the equivalent of a two-bit plaintiff's firm. Albeit, that's one with 1.8 million captive clients; one that's not required to troll for business with sleazy, patronizing TV commericals.

Hughes and McGraw's other defenders argue they need to hire private folks on the come because the Legislature won't give them the money to fund their grand crusades against Corporate America. But they've chosen to pursue them anyway, missing the point.

The Attorney General answers to the people, not to himself. Accordingly, he doesn't set his own budget or the scope of his work. The people do, and the currency of our communication is taxpayer money. If we thought a lawsuit were important enough, we'd expressly give McGraw the resources to take it on.

Imagine if our criminal prosecutors followed the same course, deputizing private lawyers and directing them to take traffic violators to the mat? Or if magistrates hired "deputy assistant judges" to help them manage their case loads?

Mr. Kilgore never developed a sue-happy trigger finger while serving Virginia. He didn't thumb his nose at the will of the people and respected the law. It didn't earn him much respect from Charleston, but Kilgore showed great deference to the separation of powers.

Darrell McGraw ought to try it sometime. West Virginians elected a state Attorney General, not a state Plaintiff's Attorney.

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