CHARLESTON – The issue of Darrell McGraw's top deputy seemingly talking for his re-election campaign was an issue in the 2008 Attorney General's race as well.
Then, the former executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse questioned why Fran Hughes was talking about the campaign to the press.
Hughes, however, said she was doing nothing wrong.
"That Darrell McGraw seemingly has no problem with the Office of the Attorney General speaking on behalf of his re-election committee underscores his arrogance and disrespect for the law," Steve Cohen, who was WV CALA's executive director, told The West Virginia Record in October 2008. "McGraw's record is replete with abusing his office with shameless self-promotion that clearly crosses the line when the chief deputy AG is also serving as campaign mouthpiece."
Cohen was referring to a Charleston Daily Mail article from a few weeks earlier headlined "Greear, McGraw in testy contest." The story said Greear blasted McGraw for refusing to debate, saying McGraw's campaign "doesn't want the attorney general's temper to show in public."
In the story, Hughes told reporter Justin Anderson that Greear's campaign has been "recklessly sullying McGraw's reputation and smearing McGraw's employees in public."
"The bottom line is that 'Judge' McGraw believes he has a record of 16 years of public service," Hughes said the Daily Mail. "He doesn't think it's appropriate to give license to somebody to stand up in public and sling mud and engage in falsehoods.
"It's hard to rebut somebody who goes to extremes in misrepresenting the actions of the attorney general."
As the spokesperson for the AG's office, Hughes told The Record that journalists often call her about the campaign.
"When a reporter calls about the campaign, I normally refer them to the campaign office," Hughes said. "When they press me for a response, I do sometimes give them my opinion. But it's the reporter calling me. I didn't seek them out."
Hughes also mentioned 2008 Republican candidate Dan Greear's attacks of her and the AG's office during that race. McGraw defeated Greear by about 4,000 votes.
"Dan Greear has attacked me personally all over the state," she said at the time. "Again, I will stand up ... We will stand up as an office when he talks about our office.
"I will respond when attacked. I don't care that he's a candidate for attorney general. We have a right to respond."
Hughes also responded to Cohen's criticisms.
"Mr. Cohen is trying to advocate for the defeat of Attorney General McGraw, which is something he cannot do," she told The Record. "He's not registered ... CALA is not registered as a political action group. It's a 501(6)(c) group.
"They sent mailings out touting Dan Greear. ... They clearly are trying to affect the election. We believe they are violating the law."
Hughes said Cohen repeatedly attacked the work of the attorney general's office.
"He constantly impugns the reputation of the employees of this office who have worked on cases on behalf of the state," she said. "He's talking about the function of the attorney general's office, it's not about the re-election campaign. He has to justify his job."
Hughes also mentioned a previous run-in with Cohen at a court hearing in Wheeling.
In August 2008, Ohio Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson withheld $3.9 million from special assistant AGs appointed by McGraw's office to help sue Visa and MasterCard. He did so after Cohen, an Ohio County resident, voiced an objection.
Cohen asked Wilson to require reports from all private attorneys on work they performed, and he proposed "to award the fees pro rata to these firms based on their actual work, rather than to simply divide the fees equally."
He asked Wilson to reduce payments to private firms by an amount equal to the value of any work that McGraw's state employees performed. He asked Wilson to make public all settlement options that were considered, "so that the citizens of the state and the members of the class may be fully informed as to how their interests were represented."
After the hearing, Hughes confronted Cohen in the hall outside the courtroom. She told him 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.
"He showed up at that hearing in Wheeling and objected to the attorney fees and expenses in the MasterCard Visa case," Hughes told The Record. "He admitted he hadn't read the pleadings and the petition for attorney fees. I call that a cheap publicity stunt."