Editor's Note: In the coming weeks, The West Virginia Record will profile candidates in this year's election for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and for state Attorney General.
CHARLESTON – Darrell McGraw says service is his calling.
"My first act of public service was being a janitor in church," McGraw said of his childhood in Wyoming County. "I was in the Army for three years. And after that, I went to West Virginia University. After two and a half years there, I was elected student body president. That was my first elected position."
Since then, McGraw also served as counsel to the state Legislature and to the governor's office. He served on the state Supreme Court. And now, he's seeking his sixth term as West Virginia's Attorney General in this year's election.
McGraw said he was taught at an early age to serve.
"We were taught that our obligation to our existence is service," he said. "This is my calling. My goal is to improve where we are in society.
"This was always my calling. I was supposed to be a lawyer."
McGraw, 75, is proud of what he's accomplished in his nearly 20 years as West Virginia' chief legal officer.
"We've put together a very effective Attorney General's office," he said. "It takes time to build these types of things. We have a highly productive office."
He said his proudest accomplishment is that he has made the office run like a law firm.
"The Attorney General's duties are defined and mandated by the Legislature," McGraw said. "The Attorney General's office, as many other similar public offices, always has been short on resources. That sometimes means laws are not enforced.
"But we have made the Attorney General's office a professional legal office. And that's not a reflection on any of our predecessors. We just made it our mission to provide premium legal services to agencies in state government and to provide consumer protection and to work on antitrust laws and funeral protection."
McGraw said his office has succeeded in that mission.
"We've succeeded because of our activities across the board, but particularly because of our effectiveness in the fields of consumer protection, antitrust laws, funeral protections and civil rights laws," he said. "I don't agree with it, but some people say the way to measure success is by dollars. That's the way we keep score, they say.
"If so, the West Virginia Attorney General's office has been one of the most successful Attorneys General offices in the country for recovery from people who have violated the law."
He boasts a return of more than $2 billion in his 20 years in office.
"Most of it has benefited the state directly," he said. "The work product of the Attorney General's office has been used to balance the state budget for 10 or 12 years now.
"If you break it down annually, it's about $100 million a year we've brought into the state."
He said he tries not to dwell on regrets.
"Of course, there are times any office makes mistakes," McGraw said. "We try to correct those mistakes when they happen. We're engaged in the ongoing effort to improve our performance and to identify areas that need adjustment.
"Sure, there have been mistakes. But really, I don't concentrate on those. We try to move forward. We have too much work to go forward to focus on the past. Not to say we don't learn from the past because we do."
McGraw did recall one event just after taking over the AG's office that he wishes had gone differently.
"In 1993, as a result of me perusing different financial publications like I do, we had a case against brokerage houses for misrepresentation," he said. "It went to the Supreme Court, but the Court said we did not have the authorization to prosecute in that case.
"If our case had succeeded, it might have possibly had an effect a few years later on everything that led to the financial meltdown. Of course, we'll never know for sure, but it might have had some effect."
He also talked about the landmark 2004 case against Purdue Pharma. McGraw's office accused the company responsible of illegal marketing practices. The settlement resulted in more than $6 million for West Virginia. But West Virginia's Attorney General's office doesn't have criminal prosecutorial powers.
"We prevailed in the McDowell County civil case," he recalled. Purdue-Pharma. "The info went up the line and it apparently made its way to Washington. It caused the USDA and the DOJ to file criminal actions against Purdue Pharma in the Southwest District of Virginia.
"Our case was a template for that. It was basically the same community, just across the state line into Virginia. And then, as an expression of appreciation, of the $600 million they received to be distributed into Oxycontin hot spots across the country, our State Police got $40 million to fight that battle."
Talking to McGraw, it's evident his work is his passion.
"My work is my calling," he said. "I take part in a lot of community activity. I'm out here and there a lot of the time. Public figures are expected to support community activities.
"So, if they ask me to participate in the Forest Festival, I do that. And the same for the Strawberry Festival or the Ramp Festival or the Buckwheat Festival or the Italian Festival."
He also said his work is his hobby.
"I don't golf or anything like that," he said. "I have gardened before. We (he and wife Jorea Marple, who is state Superintendent of Schools) enjoy attending sporting events."
He said he also hasn't thought about retirement. If he is victorious over Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey in this year's election, he will be 80 at the end of that term.
"I haven't really thought about that," he said. "A lot can change between now and then. That's four years from now.