CHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has sign a bill into law that will codify current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s outside counsel policy.
House Bill 4007 already had passed once this session, but Tomblin vetoed it because he thought it was too broad and gave the AG too much power.
The bill was reworked and passed again. On March 9, Tomblin signed it.
"They addressed our concerns," Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said.
The law will create bidding and qualification procedures for the Attorney General’s office’s hiring of outside counsel.
“By codifying my outside counsel policy we make permanent good government spending limits that will save taxpayers millions of dollars for years to come,” Morrisey said in a statement. “It eliminates the ‘friends and family plan,’ enhances transparency and ensures that taxpayers get better value for the legal services provided to the state.
“It is my hope that the changes adopted by the Legislature also will not impact the state’s ability to realize lower fees on cases initiated before I took office. Virtually all of the law firms I inherited agreed to my lower fee structure – and I hope everyone will continue to come together to save even more money for taxpayers.”
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse also praised the passage of the bill, saying Morrisey and the Legislature “deserve recognition for their work on a good-government outside counsel rule requiring transparency and competitive bidding for the appointment of private attorneys to represent the state and its agencies.”
“For many years we saw excesses in former Attorney General (Darrell) McGraw’s administration with backroom deals made to hire, and often enrich, politically connected private lawyers,” WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said in a statement. “The legislation passed by the Legislature … establishes strong ethical requirements for attorneys general, and the competitive bidding requirement will help ensure taxpayers’ dollars are spent efficiently.”
Morrisey made the implementation of this policy part of his campaign against McGraw in 2012. His office says it has saved the state over four million dollars since it was implemented.
“We applaud Attorney General Morrisey for his strong leadership in transforming the office of Attorney General by setting policy to avoid any appearance of impropriety and to make available the best legal representation to the State of West Virginia,” Stauffer said. “We can rest assured that going forward there will be transparency in the process by which we hire outside attorneys to represent our state.
“Not only will this policy save money for our state and taxpayers going forward, it will close the door on the type of backroom deals we saw under former Attorney General Darrell McGraw.”
The American Tort Reform Association also hailed the passage.
“A special thank-you to Attorney General Patrick Morrissey for his leadership on this important piece of legislation,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said in a statement. “The hard work and dedication of Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead, House Judiciary Chair John Shott and Senate Judiciary Chair Charlie Trump also deserve kudos.
“By signing this legislation into law, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will add West Virginia to a growing list of 21 other states that have adopted similar reforms in an effort to increase transparency. These states understand how vital transparency is, not only to improving a state’s civil justice system but also to boosting economic growth by attracting new businesses and jobs.”
Joyce said the lack of transparency in private attorney contracting has been a national problem for some time, noting a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series that detailed the issues involved.
“In states without safeguards, attorneys general or other state officials have granted potentially lucrative contingency-fee contacts to their friends or political patrons among the personal injury bar and effectively deputized them with the power of the state to sue presumably deep-pocketed corporate defendants,” he said. “This legislation prohibits the state from entering into a contingency-fee contract with any attorney or law firm unless the contracting agency first makes a written determination that such a contract is both cost-effective and in the public interest.
“It limits contingency fees relative to the size of the state’s recovery in a lawsuit, helping to ensure that litigation brought on behalf of the state will primarily benefit the state, and not simply the well-connected personal injury lawyers involved. Among other things, the bill also requires the online posting of any contingency-fee contracts and records of fee payments for public scrutiny.”