Things went 'very well' at settlement hearing, Deputy AG says

By John O'Brien | Aug 22, 2008




SHEPHERDSTOWN - State Attorney General Darrell McGraw's top aide spoke Friday about one of the office's more controversial cases.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said things went "very well" during Wednesday's hearing in Wheeling that delayed a possible $3.9 million payment to private attorneys hired by McGraw to sue Visa and MasterCard.

Wednesday, Ohio Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson decided to consider an objection to the fees by a state legal reform group, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. The settlement, with help from Gov. Joe Manchin and the state's Legislature, set up a sales tax holiday in September on appliances with the Energy Star label.

"I think the reaction is that this is a very, very creative lawsuit," said Hughes, who was attending a meeting with McGraw's Citizen Advisory Committee.

"It really showed what happens when you have a nonpartisan effort made on the part of the government."

Attorneys who filed the suit also are campaign contributors of McGraw's. He has been criticized -- including by CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen -- for giving state contracts to supporters.

At Wednesday's hearing, Wilson unexpectedly solicited testimony from Cohen, who identified himself as a watchdog and as a class member in the antitrust suit.

Visa settled the lawsuit months ago by agreeing to pay $9.3 million to the state treasury, $425,000 to McGraw's office and $3 million to private law firms.

MasterCard settled at $2.3 million for the treasury, $175,000 for McGraw and $900,000 for private firms.

The $11.6 million for the treasury will offset a sales tax holiday that lawmakers and Manchin enacted to carry out the settlement.

At the hearing, Wilson approved payments to McGraw's office and the treasury but said he wasn't ready to look at Cohen's objection. He said he would rule in 30 days.

Hughes approached Cohen after the hearing and said it was dishonest to call his group a watchdog when it was a business group.

"One of these days you will be exposed, and you will get your due," she told Cohen.

The firms representing the state are Bucci Bailey & Javins in Charleston; Wexler Toriseva Wallace LLP in Wheeling; Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP in Seattle; and Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP in Washington, D.C.

Teresa Toriseva donated $844 to McGraw and is the former president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, formerly known as the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association. Guy Bucci has donated $1,000 to McGraw, running for re-election this year against Charleston attorney Dan Greear.

"If this case was left to any individual, it wouldn't have been done," Hughes said Friday.

"That is why the Attorney General has special powers ... He can step into the shoes of consumers and provide a remedy."

McGraw, who was there for the meeting with the Citizen Advisory Committee, denied an interview request.

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