Attorney general’s ethical policy is welcome change

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s announcement Tuesday that his office is returning $5 million to the state treasury may have seemed like ho-hum news to some West Virginians. After all, Morrisey should be expected to do that.

But such action was not always expected. Just a few years ago, Morrisey’s predecessor, Darrell McGraw, had a very different policy.

McGraw, who was attorney general for several years, handled lawsuits filed on behalf of the state in a very different manner than Morrisey, from beginning to end.

Attorneys general sometimes need to hire outside counsel for such lawsuits because staff attorneys lack the necessary experience and expertise in specialized areas of the law. Morrisey does that, but by a careful process intended to ensure the best private attorneys are hired at reasonable rates. His approach now is state law.

McGraw often handed lucrative outside counsel deals to political cronies, with his decisions being the final word.

When the state prevailed in such lawsuits, often filed as consumer protection actions, McGraw was reluctant to send millions of dollars back to the state treasury, where it belonged. He retained the money in his office, sometimes spending it for re-election campaign trinkets such as refrigerator magnets displaying his name.

In one notorious episode, McGraw’s office retained $10 million from a settlement with a pharmaceutical company.

In contrast, Morrisey has returned $23 million from various settlements to the state treasury. The $5 million this week was merely the most recent transfer.

“This is the people’s money,” Morrisey said this week. “Taxpayers should realize the benefit of the hard-earned work and efficiency of our office.”

Absolutely. But McGraw did not see it that way. That was a major factor in the thinking of voters who ousted him from the attorney general’s office in the 2012 election.

Now McGraw wants to get back into politics. He is a candidate for the state Supreme Court.

He must think West Virginia voters have very short memories.

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