WASHINGTON - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is supporting a new policy by the West Virginia Attorney General on how and when outside counsel would be hired.
The changes "will take a significant step to curb the troublesome practice of awarding contingency fee contracts to plaintiffs' lawyers who are also major campaign contributors to the state attorney general, a reform needed for decades," Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, said.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey last week unveiled the new procedures, a six-page policy outlining when an outside counsel would be appointed, a competitive bidding process for the selection and the contingency fee the attorneys will be able to collect. Outside counsel was a Morrisey campaign issue in 2012 against incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw.
"Such 'pay-to-play' schemes enrich lawyers at the expense of taxpayers and raise significant concerns about conflicts of interest, favoritism, the use of a public entity for personal gain and fairness in prosecutions," Rickard said. "With this policy, West Virginia will join a vanguard of states who have led the effort to open the relationships between state attorneys general and private lawyers hired to work with them to public scrutiny. We commend Attorney General Morrisey for his leadership, and encourage the state legislature to cement these safeguards into place by making them law."
Morrisey, a Republican, said the policy establishes order and brings transparency to the process.
"We have received a significant amount of positive feedback since announcing the new draft policy for hiring outside counsel, and we are very pleased the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform recognizes the changes the Attorney General's office is making to improve transparency and fairness in the state," Morrisey said on Monday.
The policy will be implemented on April 15. A 45-day comment period also commences on April 15, of which comments will be reviewed and a final policy will be effective July 16.
Comments can be submitted until May 30 by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to West Virginia Attorney General's Office, Attn: Outside Counsel Policy, West Virginia State Capitol, Building 1, Room 26-E, Charleston, WV 25305. A copy of the Outside Counsel Policy is available at www.wvago.gov/outsidecounsel.cfm.