Change McGraw's hiring practices, CALA says

By John O'Brien | Feb 13, 2009


CHARLESTON - While a legislative audit recently shined a light on the hiring practices of the state, a legal reform group is still more worried about Attorney General Darrell McGraw's.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said Thursday that McGraw's hiring practices need addressed and called for reform. McGraw draws criticism for hiring outside firms that have contributed to his campaign to represent the State in litigation.

The legislative audit showed that applicants with the highest civil service exam scores aren't always picked by the Division of Personnel. CALA says candidates are overlooked for those with political or family connections.

"Hiring practices by the attorney general have been the most blatant example of such cronyism," said Steve Cohen, executive director of CALA.

"A Sunshine Law is needed to bring public accountability to prevent the seemingly pay-to-play deals in Darrell McGraw's office that mirror those of the Illinois and New Mexico governors."

McGraw's highest-profile cases in which he hired outside counsel that contributed to his campaigns are his 2001 suit against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that resulted in more than one-third of a $10 million settlement going to the attorneys and a recent settlement with Visa and MasterCard that yielded $3.9 million in attorneys fees.

McGraw's office has a similar disdain for CALA. Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes feels the group's grassroots image is a sham, and that it is funded by out-of-state corporate interests.

Hughes approached Cohen after a hearing in Wheeling 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.

Cohen had asked a state judge to demand information that showed the $3.9 million the attorneys requested in the Visa/MasterCard case is justified.

Last year, Hughes said CALA's objective is "to foster a legal environment that shields its contributors from accountability when they break the law."

State personnel director Otis Cox rejected the notion that the audit's findings hint at any nepotism in the State's hiring practices, according to a report in the Charleston Daily Mail.

"No one has come to me and said, 'We have a problem with nepotism,'" Cox told lawmakers, according to the report.

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