CHARLESTON -- About half of the personal injury lawyers who contributed to Attorney General Darrell McGraw's 2008 re-election campaign with large contributions have worked as special assistant AGs for his office.
Those appointments mean the attorneys could reap millions of dollars in legal fees at public expense, and the executive director of a statewide legal reform group is crying out for reform.
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said these official campaign finance reports on file with the Secretary of Stateshow "there is the perception of a pay-to-play arrangement" in McGraw's office.
"Two West Virginia firms that wrote checks to McGraw await their share of a $3.9 million legal fee in their Christmas stocking at public expense," Cohen said. "To this day we have no idea what work they did to earn it."
Guy Bucci, Barry Hill and Teresa Toriseva are all listed as contributors to McGraw on the latest campaign finance reports and were hired by him as outside counsel in a lawsuit he filed against two financial services firms. This summer, in response to a request by WV CALA, Ohio Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson delayed until next month approval of the lawyers' fees pending a review of their work in settling the case.
"This is the problem," Cohen said. "They told the court they worked 'hundreds of hours' on the case. What kind of accountability is that from the attorney general? Who is looking out for the public's money? Did they work 200 hours? 500? If they worked a thousand hours, that's still stiffing West Virginia at $3,300 an hour."
WV CALA has questioned why McGraw needs outside hires when taxpayers already give him a legal staff of 200.
The latest campaign finance reports also reflect contributions from personal injury lawyers McGraw hired for a lawsuit he settled hours after his 2004 re-election. They delivered more than $40,000 in campaign cash to him and got the first $3.3 million cut in legal fees at public expense from an action against the maker of the painkilling drug, OxyContin.
"This system of seemingly rewarding campaign donors with cushy government work must stop if West Virginia's legal system is to be regarded with integrity," Cohen said. "A Sunshine law would hold the AG to public scrutiny and bring transparency to the way that office conducts our business."