CHARLESTON – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has earned a high grade for transparency, ending "pay-to-play" outside counsel and helping to remove the state from a "judicial hellhole" list, a tort watchdog advocate said during a recent interview.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

"We give him an 'A'," West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Executive Director Roman Stauffer told The West Virginia Record. "We appreciate Attorney General Morrisey for his good work in the office and especially for his transparency and his outside counsel policies."

When Morrisey, a Republican, took office in 2013, he vowed to reverse the course of his predecessor. Critics, such as WV CALA, said former Attorney General Darrell McGraw retained settlements and awards from lawsuits against major drug companies, forcing the state to deal with reimbursements to the federal government. McGraw also for years made arrangements with private-sector personal injury lawyers to work on behalf of the state, including those who contributed to his political campaigns, an arrangement some called "pay to play."

First elected attorney general in 1992, McGraw's enduring pattern of hiring outside counsel and appointing special assistants took the outside counsel idea to new heights.

McGraw's dealings helped the state attract negative attention from the American Tort Reform Foundation. West Virginia made the foundation's "Judicial Hellhole" list in 2002, the first year the foundation released the list. In 2005, West Virginia was the only full state on the list, where it ranked third behind Texas' Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast, and Cook County, Illinois.

McGraw was re-elected in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, but lost his bid for a sixth term in 2012, receiving only 49 percent of the vote, compared to Morrisey's 51 percent.

Morrisey spent his first few months in office cleaning house and released a report after his first 100 days detailing how his office had implemented the 17-point plan upon which he'd campaigned.

By the summer of 2014, Morrisey's outside counsel policy had saved the state almost $4 million.

Morrisey's outside counsel policies were at the heart of the reforms in his office. Dealing with the outside counsel problems left by his predecessor was especially difficult because a total ban on the use of outside counsel simply won't work, Stauffer said.

"We have no problem with the attorney general's use of outside counsel," Stauffer said. "There are times the state needs to use outside counsel, especially in complex litigation."

What the state never needed was outside counsel who bought and paid for their own hiring, a policy that no longer happens in Morrisey's office, Stauffer said. The use of outside counsel under the policy now in place in the state attorney general's office is based on need and utilizes a strict bidding process, Stauffer said.

"We applaud the transparency and the competitive bidding process that Attorney General Morrisey has put into place," Stauffer said.

Morrisey is running for another term as state Attorney General against West Virginia House Rep. Douglas "Doug" Reynolds (D - District 17).

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