WASHINGTON, D.C. - The American Tort Reform Association has given largely positive comments to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for his proposal to reform how private sector attorneys are hired to conduct litigation on behalf of West Virginia.
ATRA President Tiger Joyce said Morrisey’s proposed Outside Counsel Policy “provides needed transparency in the manner in which West Virginia hires outside counsel, includes critical oversight to help ensure that private lawyers enforce the law in accordance with the public interest, and safeguards taxpayers from loss of the state’s recovery in litigation to pay excessive attorney fees."
Joyce said former Attorney General Darrell McGraw had “faced substantial criticism due to routine, no-bid hiring of outside counsel on a contingent-fee basis through informal agreements” that in some cases led to private lawyers “receiv[ing] millions of dollars in fees – money that would otherwise reduce the tax burden of West Virginians or fund public programs – without the public having an understanding of how much time or effort was spent litigating the case."
Offering two suggestions to improve Morrisey’s “good-government” proposal further, Joyce explained the policy benefits of “requiring disclosure and applying contractual safeguards in outside counsel arrangements entered prior to adoption of the policy, and limiting the pre-bidding process to areas in which there is a likely need for hiring outside counsel on a time-sensitive basis."
During a budget hearing this year with legislators, Morrisey said a bidding process will ensure the State and its taxpayers will get the best deal.
A page on Morrisey’s website will allow the public to view:
-Written determinations from the attorney general regarding the need to appoint outside counsel;
-Requests for proposal seeking legal services from private attorneys to represent the State;
-Any payment of contingency fees to appointed outside counsel; and
-Notice of attorneys and/or law firms that have been previously approved to represent the State with regard to a particular area of law or subject matter.
In ATRA's comments, Joyce ended with praise for the “significant progress” Morrisey has led during his first 100 days in office, including his active support for important legislative reforms.
“These actions are positive steps toward improving the reputation of West Virginia’s civil justice system,' Joyce wrote.
The American Tort Reform Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation.
Its members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level.