By Patrick Morrisey
W.Va. Attorney General
West Virginia taxpayers deserve transparency, competitive bidding and millions of dollars in cost savings, all of which my administration delivered with its implementation of an outside counsel policy.
This initiative, already responsible for saving taxpayers more than $4.3 million since 2013, revolutionized the process by which my office selects private law firms to represent West Virginia whenever such assistance is determined to be cost effective and in the state’s best interest.
My policy immediately ended the “friends and family plan” and set into motion a new day for West Virginia. Its effectiveness garnered national attention and just this month the state Legislature codified the policy into law with passage of House Bill 4007.
The Legislature’s bipartisan support permanently ends decades of cronyism. It blocks future attorneys general from reverting to the days of inflated attorney fees and little transparency, which unnecessarily cost millions of dollars and harmed the legal reputation in West Virginia.
One big expense cut lies with a 25-percent cap on legal fees for the first tier of monies recovered. Significantly, we are pushing to even lower that amount and recently awarded a contract at a 20-percent level – all of this to spend as little as possible on outside counsel, while still relying on outside help when our office lacks resources or expertise to pursue a matter.
Fewer dollars expended on outside counsel means more money for consumers and the state of West Virginia, which in turn eases the financial burden of state taxpayers.
The policy utilizes a combination of transparency and competitive bidding to end cronyism. It requires written determination that a need exists, followed by public advertisement and an objective review of the proposed bids.
In certain instances, exemptions to bidding may be appropriate, but the public will always know the reason for such an exemption.
The written determination outlines specific findings as to the need for outside counsel. It also examines the time, expertise and geographic area involved with litigating the case.
A public advertisement then appears on the Attorney General’s Office website. The policy sets forth wide distribution of the request to ensure broad inclusion in the bidding process for an array of qualified firms.
The bidding process ends with the attorney general evaluating the bids based upon factors outlined in the policy. If the received proposals prove insufficient, the policy further outlines a process by which the office can solicit a second round of bids.
Our policy, as now codified into law, provides a blueprint for hiring outside counsel, but it remains my desire to handle cases in house as much as possible. Doing so only adds to the costs savings realized by taxpayers
For instance, the state expended no funds for outside counsel in its case against Frontier Communications.
The Frontier matter settled out of court for $160 million in promised infrastructure improvements, consumer fee reductions and payments to the state. Handing all legal work in house easily saved hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, which strengthened the settlement by ensuring consumers realize more of its benefit.
Again, one of my top priorities is to save West Virginia money. I believe we can accomplish this by limiting the use of private law firms and strictly adhering to our policy in those instances where their assistance is required.
Together I believe these initiatives will be yet another way to help West Virginia reach her potential.
Patrick Morrisey serves as attorney general for West Virginia.