CHARLESTON – In West Virginia, a lobbyist can give a state official the most extravagant gift on earth as long as they both call it personal.
The state Ethics Act prohibits gifts from lobbyists to public officials, but it allows exceptions for "purely private and personal gifts."
Fran Hughes, chief deputy of Attorney General Darrell McGraw, swore in a Feb. 19 deposition that she has received such gifts.
First she swore that she never accepted a gift from a lobbyist. Her attorney, Christopher Morris of Charleston, apparently knew better.
When his turn came to question Hughes, he asked if she made friends with people who happened to be lobbyists. She said yes.
Morris said, "From time to time have those friends given you personal gifts?" Hughes said yes.
Morris said, "Did those personal gifts have anything to do with those lobbyists' lobbying activities?"
Hughes said, "No, no. I didn't receive any gifts from anybody that had any connection with our office."
Hughes gave the deposition in a suit former employee Debra Whanger filed against McGraw after Hughes fired her.
Whanger claimed Hughes made her a scapegoat for spending state funds on promotional trinkets while McGraw ran for re-election in 2004.
At Hughes's deposition Whanger's attorney, Mark Atkinson of Charleston, asked her a question after she said she received personal gifts.
Hughes answered, but the exchange remains private.
Retired Circuit Judge E. L. Egnor of Huntington blacked it out on a joint motion of Whanger and McGraw, after Whanger settled for $125,000.
Egnor heard the case by special assignment of Chief Justice Robin Davis, after all Kanawha County circuit judges recused themselves.