House candidate calls for probe of AG's office

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 20, 2006


CHARLESTON – The state Legislature needs to investigate the actions of Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office, according to a Charleston attorney who is running for the House of Delegates.

"There are a lot of things that need to be done about the attorney general," said Mike Stuart, a Kanawha County Republican seeking a seat from the 30th District. "If elected, I will push for a special investigative committee to look at some of the conduct by the attorney general.

"There is a general pattern of frustration with that office. There's a cloud over the AG's office in terms of the public's confidence. Across the board, people are wondering about the operations of that office."

Stuart, an attorney in the Charleston office of Steptoe & Johnson who practices corporate, business and transactional law, said that cloud over the AG's office also is a veil of secrecy.

"What I'm going to do is to make sure the operations of the attorney general are transparent and easily understood by the public," he said. "Right now, they are not.

"The Legislature needs to create a mechanism where folks from the general public have confidence in the office. I don't think there is any doubt about that that confidence is gone.

"This Legislature has not done enough to make sure this office is operating above board."

Stuart, who is running for one of seven seats in the traditionally Democratic district, says that when people lose confidence in such an office, there is a residual effect.

"How can the AG's office represent the citizens of the state if the office is questioned?" Stuart asked. "We've let this go on too long.

"If all clouds of uncertainty are removed, then it's good for the public. And it's only right that the people of West Virginia understand that and take appropriate action."

In particular, Stuart says he has questions about how McGraw's office has used special assistant attorneys general, how it has represented state agencies in several high-profile cases and how McGraw has distributed monies received in settlements.

McGraw has been criticized over his office's practice of hiring outside attorneys to work on cases. Critics note that these attorneys he's appointed to serve as Special Assistant AGs have made significant contributions to his political campaigns.

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 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 Attorneys General in a case they already were working as private attorneys.

Their terminations came after Cooper Wiring Devices and Leviton Manufacturing both filed complaints in March stating that subpoenas issued by Frankovitch and Simon in February requesting safety testing records regarding an electrical outlet the companies produced were without power.

Cooper and Leviton said McGraw overstepped his constitutional boundaries with the appointment of outside attorneys. Frankovitch and Simon were working on a civil case in Marshall County, and they were appointed by McGraw to act on behalf of the Attorney General's office.

This summer, two drug companies petitioned the state Supreme Court about whether McGraw's office has the authority to hire private lawyers.

Stuart says the use of special assistant AGs needs to be examined.

"Someone needs to look at these special assistant appointments," he said. "It's a recurring thing. Some of them didn't work on these cases and made $800,000. It's an outrage.

"State government is not a private law firm, nor should it be run like that. But this AG's office has done that, and that is not a representative of the public interest."

Stuart also referenced McGraw's handling of the OxyContin case in which McGraw's office sued Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories over marketing of the drug. Purdue Pharma settled the case with the State of West Virginia for $10 million. Critics disagree with the way McGraw's office didn't give the settlement funds to the state agencies his office was representing in the suit, even saying McGraw created a "political slush fund" with the money.

"Anytime you're suing on behalf of the state and the agencies you are representing don't get the funds back, you have to question what's going on," Stuart said. "It's an outrage, and it's unfortunate that the AG's office is allowed to operate this way."

The bottom line, Stuart says, is that McGraw and his office has "decided to operate outside the legal limits of what they're supposed to be doing."

"Laws are written for the office," he said. "It's important they operate within the laws written for that office.

"The things they're doing are just an outrage. This is not a Republican-versus-Democrat issue. It's an issue of making certain our attorney general operates within the constraints of the law.

"He effectively uses the money in a way that rewards his cronies and folks close to his administration. It's a double standard. They think there are laws for the public and laws for them."

Stuart says neither political party -- including current lawmakers -- haven't done enough to deal with these issues and with tort reform in general.

Both parties have not done enough to make sure the cloud of uncertainty has been removed," he said. "The Sunshine act, for example. That should've been done to make sure folks have confidence in that office.

"It's become an insignificant office on the basis of his lack of leadership. If the attorney general isn't champion of tort reform, who is? The person in that office should be a champion of legal climate that is positive, not one that is limiting or punishing."

No one from McGraw's office returned calls seeking comment.

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