CHARLESTON (Legal Newsline) – Attorneys previously given state contracts by West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw have so far contributed $36,000 to his re-election campaign.
McGraw has raised $84,080 for his race against Republican Patrick Morrisey, who, like McGraw, has no primary opponent. Morrisey, an attorney who works in Washington, D.C., but lives in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, has raised more than $150,000 so far.
McGraw has won his last two re-election campaigns by less than one percentage point of the vote. Critics routinely point to his relationship with the plaintiffs bar.
"Attorney General McGraw's campaign finance reports give off an unseemly appearance of 'pay-to-play' and raise questions as to whether state legal work is going to the biggest campaign contributors," said Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
An October report produced by the Manhattan Institute as part of its Trial Lawyers Inc. series included McGraw as one of the AGs who works the closest with the plaintiffs bar. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has also criticized McGraw for the same.
McGraw and Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes has defended their hiring practices for years, saying the State would not be able to earn large settlements and jury awards without the expertise of outside counsel.
"Think of the terms," Hughes has said. "We don't know how long we want you to work, or how much it will cost you, or how much you'll be paid. The attorneys selected are highly skilled, and have the capital and the infrastructure to try large cases.
"Any judicial officer receives contributions from the bar, but Attorney General McGraw does not appoint special assistant attorneys general based on campaign contributions."
Those firms that saw employees and their spouses contribute to McGraw's 2012 campaign are:
* Bailey & Glasser, a Charleston firm that gave $7,000 and was previously hired for a case against prescription drug retailers like Wal-Mart over the price of generic drugs;
* Berthold Law Office, the Charleston firm of Robert Berthold that gave $1,000 and was hired for McGraw's case against Johnson & Johnson over its prescription drug Risperdal;
* Bucci, Bailey & Javins, a Charleston firm that gave $5,000 and was hired for a case against Visa and MasterCard;
* DiTrapano, Barrett & DiPiero, a Charleston firm that gave $2,500 and was hired for a case against OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and a case against Bank of America;
* Fitzsimmons Law Offices, a Wheeling firm that gave $3,000 and was hired for a case against Marsh and McLennan and AIG;
* Frankovitch, Anetakis, Colantonio and Simon, a Weirton firm that gave $3,000 and was hired for a case against Cooper Wiring Devices and Leviton Manufacturing (the appointment was dropped when the companies sued McGraw over the hires) and a case against Comcast;
* The Giatras Law Firm, the Charleston firm of Troy Giatras that gave $2,000 and was hired for a case against Marsh and McLennan and AIG, a case against Capital Finance and a case against Eli Lilly & Co. over the prescription drug Zyprexa;
* Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler, a Charleston firm that gave $1,000 that was hired for the Risperdal case and another case against several financial service companies, including Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch;
* Powell & Majestro, a Charleston firm that gave $1,000 and was hired for a case against Cross Country Bank and for an investigation into the Variable Annuities Life Insurance Co.;
* Goldberg Law Office, the Charleston office of Robert Goldberg that gave $1,000 and was hired for the Risperdal case;
* Tiano O'Dell, a Charleston firm that gave $2,000 and was hired for a case against Bank of America; and
* Cook, Hall & Lampros, an Atlanta firm that gave $8,000 and was hired for the case against Bank of America.
The Cook firm has another connection. Edward Shuff Cook is the nephew by marriage of former state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, Darrell's brother.
It wasn't the first time McGraw hired Cook. In 2001, while at Provost Umphrey, Cook was hired for a case involving the law firm Steptoe & Johnson.
Many of the firms are longtime contributors of McGraw's.
"The attorneys chosen to represent the interests of the people of West Virginia should be selected fairly through a transparent, competitive bidding process," Heath said.
"Even the appearance of a pay-to-play scheme or good ole boy legal network hurts our entire state. Legislators should enact good government reforms to correct this problem."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.