No more secrets

By The West Virginia Record | May 29, 2009

As best we can tell, H. Blair Hahn isn't a covert operative. He doesn't lurk in shadows or don a disguise. But his lawyer contract with West Virginia is top secret.

The South Carolina plaintiff's lawyer currently represents the citizens of this state in a lawsuit against drug maker Eli Lilly, which alleges marketing fraud and demands billions in damages. And eventually Hahn expects to collect a fat check from taxpayers for his efforts. That's most of what we know.

The people didn't hire Hahn, didn't write the contract, and don't know what the state is obligated to pay him. West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, chief architect of the scheme to let private lawyers use the state's power to sue and demand settlements out of private corporations, has kept secret those critical facts about public monies.

And the people have let him.

Squaring off with Hahn and McGraw in U.S. District Court, Eli Lilly has proven less of a pushover. The company repeatedly has asked to see the contract between the state and Hahn laying out how much he stands to make in fees from any settlement. But McGraw has refused to provide it.

He may no longer have a choice. According to a report by our John O'Brien, Hahn recently made the mistake of faxing a letter to U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, wondering how a settlement might impact his own fees. In doing so, he failed to send a copy to the Eli Lilly lawyers, which would have made the letter part of the public record.

Hahn has since apologized to the court for this "oversight." Some might question his sincerity. When you're doing the bidding of Darrell McGraw, discussing fees in a public court for all prying eyes to see is an apparent no-no.

Judge Weinstein has an opportunity to blow Hahn's cover, ordering him to show Eli Lilly the details of his agreement with our state. For the people's sake, he should do so.

Public contracts involving public money deserve public scrutiny. Attorney General McGraw apparently doesn't think so. Judge Weinstein might think differently.

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