CHARLESTON – A Charleston attorney says campaign contributions aren't the reason he has been appointed as a special assistant by Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office three times in the last two years.
Troy Giatras has been appointed by McGraw's office to work on cases against Capitol One and other credit card companies, against Eli Lilly & Company regarding Zyprexa and against Marsh and McLennan and AIG.
Giatras said Thursday he isn't the right person to ask about why he has been appointed as a special assistant, saying someone with McGraw's office would have to answer that.
Fran Hughes, chief deputy attorney general for McGraw, didn't return calls about Giatras on Thursday, but told The Record last week that the office does not base special assistant appointments on political contributions.
"Any judicial officer receives contributions from the bar, but Attorney General McGraw does not appoint special assistant attorneys general based on campaign contributions," Hughes said. "Not many attorneys have the expertise to engage in anti-trust litigation."
Giatras and former law partner Rusty Webb did have a political action committee called Equal Justice that, in 2004, contributed $1,000 to McGraw's campaign.
On Thursday, Giatras said he and Webb are in the process of ending Equal Justice., which organized in 1999.
"We started that a long time ago," Giatras said. "Now, it's in the process of winding down. It's something where you just have to go through a lot of paperwork. You have to make sure all of the filings are current and closed."
Giatras also said McGraw's office is "very involved" in the cases when outside counsel is appointed as a special assistant.
"Every day, and I'd say in every state, attorneys general work to take care of consumers and businesses," Giatras said. "If a business is flim-flamming customers, someone needs to protect those customers and the competitor businesses."
Hughes agreed, also added that the AG's office closely manages their deputized appointees, and that the office is "completely involved in every stage of the case."
"Not one pleading is filed without input and review from the attorney general's office," she said last week. "If it ever happened, the attorney doing so would have their appointment terminated.
"The attorney general's office participates and has final say in all negotiations and strategy. If the case goes to trial, our office is front and center. The bottom line is that Darrell McGraw, as the constitutionally elected chief legal officer whose responsibility is to set legal policy for the state, has found a way to protect consumers (and) hold lawbreakers accountable without additional cost to the taxpayers."
Giatras who received his law degree from West Virginia University's College of Law in 1990, is admitted to the bars in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia. He's a member of the American Bar Association, the West Virginia Bar Association, the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (chairman of the Low Impact Collision Group and the Oxycontin Litigation Group). He also is the state coordinator for Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
He also is a federal and state approved panel mediator, has been appointed special prosecutor for Kanawha County and was counsel for the West Virginia Senate Minority Leader in 1997 and 1998.
His law firm's Web site says Giatras' areas of practice include personal injury, criminal law, domestic violence, sexual abuse, consumer credit problems and problems with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
McGraw has come under fire of late over the practice of hiring outside attorneys to work on cases for his office.
In July, two drug companies -- Janssen and Johnson & Johnson -- petitioned the state Supreme Court about whether McGraw's office has the authority to use outside counsel in a case against them in Brooke County.
In this year's legislative session, a House of Delegates bill that would have tightened the belt on the state Attorney General office's contracts with outside attorneys died on third reading on the Rules Committee table.
In April, McGraw's office terminated the January appointments of Weirton attorneys M. Eric Frankovitch and Michael Simon as special assistant AGs in a case they already were working as private attorneys.
While being deputized as a special assistant AG to represent the state might sound fancy, Giatras said it's a lot of hard work.
"There's no glamour to it," he said. "And you certainly don't seek it out for publicity. But it is nice to, on most of these cases, work with equally competent lawyers."