Magazine says W.Va. AG race one to watch

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 10, 2012

CHARLESTON -- One of the nation’s more conservative magazines has pointed to West Virginia’s attorney general race as one to watch.

The National Review Online’s Bench Memos blog took note of the November matchup between longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey in a post over the weekend.

The Bench Memos blog was launched in May 2005 as a “conservative clearinghouse for all things legal and judicial,” according to NRO’s website.

Carrie Severino, who authored the Oct. 6 blog post, describes the Mountain State race as one where a “strong, conservative attorney general could be elected.”

Severino serves as the chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington, D.C.-based group “dedicated to strengthening liberty and justice in America.”

In her post, she notes the American Tort Reform Foundation’s most recent Judicial Hellholes report, ranking West Virginia as the nation’s third-worst.

McGraw, Severino writes, is a “large reason” why.

“According to them, McGraw ‘remains under fire for running his office as if it were a private personal injury law firm and distributing litigation settlements to programs and organizations of his choosing, rather than the state and its taxpayers,’” Severino wrote.

McGraw’s “willingness to engage in contingency-fee arrangements and misuse of settlement funds is troubling,” she continued.

The blog post goes on to point out McGraw’s diverting of funds -- without legislative approval -- from the nationwide mortgage settlement to open a satellite office in the Eastern Panhandle and giving another $1 million to the state’s Legal Aid.

The satellite office, located in Martinsburg, a city in the state’s fastest-growing region, is funded for three years by the deal with mortgage servicers Wells Fargo and Co., JPMorgan Chase and Co., Citigroup Inc., Ally Financial Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

The nationwide settlement, reached in February between federal officials, 49 state attorneys general and the banks, is worth $25 billion but only covers those mortgages held by the five banks, not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

West Virginia received more than $33 million in funds from the deal to help struggling homeowners.

A month after opening the satellite office, McGraw then decided to dole out funds from the settlement to Legal Aid.

The move allows the nonprofit organization -- the sole provider of no-cost legal assistance with housing, income security and safety issues for the state’s low-income or “vulnerable” citizens -- to continue to operate its office in Logan and Mingo counties for the next three years.

But Morrisey, an Eastern Panhandle attorney, presents a challenge to the often-criticized McGraw, who has held the office since 1992.

As Severino notes, Morrisey is “well funded.”

Indeed, according to recent campaign finance reports, he continues to out-raise his Democratic opponent.

In his general-first report filed late last month, Morrisey reported $460,498.80 in total contributions year-to-date.

Compare that to McGraw, who reported less than half of that amount in total contributions thus far -- $181,772.31.

Severino says Morrisey’s fundraising, combined with his promises to challenge the federal government’s overreach, could mean the boot for McGraw.

“In a state that is certain to swing heavily for Mitt Romney, this election could leave one of the worst attorneys general in the country seeking employment,” she wrote.

According to the blog, other attorney general races to watch include Montana -- Republican Tim Fox is facing Democrat Pam Bucy -- and Missouri -- conservative lawyer Ed Martin is challenging incumbent Attorney General Chris Koster.

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