Finger waggin' Fran

By The West Virginia Record | Aug 29, 2008

West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw was all set to dole out another $3.9 million to his trial lawyer friends last week when something important happened at the courthouse.

Someone publicly challenged him.

Regular readers of The Record will recognize the name Steve Cohen. In his day job, he's the head of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a political activist professionally advocating for tort reform. The rest of the time, he's just an average citizen as disturbed as the rest of us by our Attorney General's unchecked use of power.

So there was Cohen seated in the gallery of Ohio Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson's courtroom, watching the latest outrage play out. McGraw and his deputy Fran Hughes were carving up $11 million -- the total settlement their office had reached in a lawsuit filed on taxpayers behalf against Visa and Mastercard.

Outside law firms, including staunch McGraw supporters such as Teresa Toriseva, would get a third, money that could recycle back to their authority of our Legislature and Gov. Joe Manchin political patron via campaign contributions. Another $600,000 would go directly to the attorney general's office, circumventing the budget, to serve as useful seed money for future crusades.

The deal was done, it seemed, until Cohen stood up and introduced himself. He hadn't been invited.

As an advocate and a citizen, Cohen told Judge Wilson he wished to formally object to the lawyer fees. Not enough was known about how much work was done by these soon to be minted-millionaire private lawyers compared to the taxpayer-paid, staff ones. Would the judge be willing to require a formal accounting of fee payments for voters?

After all, they're the ones paying the bill.

Wilson listened. To his credit, he said he'd rule on Cohen's objection within 30 days. The lawyer payments would have to wait.

Hughes blew her top. She wagged her finger at Cohen, calling him dishonest and vowing vengeance.

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

Hughes meant "exposed" as an advocate for business, rather than a champion of plaintiff lawyers. As if that's some mystery.

Cohen is arguing a point of view that is different than hers. Rather than throw mud and feign hysterics, she might try arguing back.

West Virginia's elected leaders haven't found the courage to stand up to some of Darrell McGraw's antics. We're glad somebody did.

Thanks, Steve Cohen.

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