They didn't just tell us. No, they didn't issue a press release. We had to ask. And when we did, it took them six weeks to get us an answer.

Exactly how many times has West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw deputized private lawyers to sue companies on the "people's" behalf?

The answer: 25 over the past three years. The lawyers' list includes some of McGraw's most loyal campaign donors, all of whom were entrusted with state power and the opportunity to strike it rich, earning big fees for successfully shaking down big industry for hearty cash settlements.

No wonder our attorney general likes to keep this information like a secret.

Even mere civilians will recognize some of the names-- like Guy Bucci, Bill Druckman, and Marvin Masters of Charleston, or Wheeling lawyers Robert Fitzsimmons, Barry Hill and Teresa Toriseva, now president-elect of the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

Joseph Kravec and John Evans are partners in one of Pittsburgh's biggest personal injury outfits. And Edward Cook is a Georgia lawyer who doubles as the nephew of Darrell's brother, former State Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. He's most famous for introducing the attorney general to fallen class action impresario Mel Weiss, whose firm Milberg Weiss is currently under federal indictment for fraud.

Making out the best all of them is of Charleston's DiTrapano, Barrett, and DiPiero, which has pocketed $1.4 million in exactly three court-approved settlements since 2003. That's $300,000 from Abbott Labs and Geneva Pharmaceuticals and $250,000 from Dey, Inc., plus $833,331.24 from Purdue Pharma over OxyContin.

Surely, you've felt the positive impact of their very important work.

We're of the opinion that this whole entire practice is unconstitutional and should be stopped by the governor and the state legislature. The prerogative isn't McGraw's to expand his office's powers and budget unilaterally, hiring outsiders whose inherent interest is maximizing their own fees, not representing the best interests of West Virginia.

But save stopping the show, at a bare minimum McGraw should be forced to conduct these crusades out in the open. We shouldn't have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out how many lawyer-mercenaries are officially on the prowl.

It was rejected by legislators last session, but one plank of the so-called "Sunshine Act" required semi-annual reports on the subject. The concept should be revisited. State power can be a menacing thing-- it shouldn't be allowed to operate in the shadows.

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