West Virginia AG Candidates Fail to Sign Transparency Oath

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ATRA reports neither candidate for West Virginia Attorney General has signed its transparency oath, writes Chris Dickerson for the West Virginia Record.

A national tort reform group says neither candidate for West Virginia Attorney General has signed its transparency oath.

The American Tort Reform Association says Republican incumbent Patrick Morrisey has declined to sign its Attorney General Transparency Code pledge and its 2020 State Attorney General Candidate Questionnaire while Democratic challenger Sam Brown Petsonk has yet to respond.

“While we are disappointed that the attorney general will not uphold common sense transparency standards, we urge AG Morrisey’s opponent Sam Petsonk to sign the pledge and demonstrate that, if elected as AG, he would be committed to transparent, accountable government,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said.

Messages to both Morrisey and Petsonk’s campaign were not returned.

Greg Thomas with West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse also was critical of the candidates.

“This lack of response from the two candidates for West Virginia Attorney General with a commitment to transparency when it comes to outside counsel bidding is embarrassing,” Thomas told The West Virginia Record. “The Attorney General Transparency code that passed in 2016 was a great step forward in reducing excessive litigation costs that would hinder our state’s economic development.

“The actions by the two candidates for Attorney General are similar to the actions that plagued our state’s Attorney General office for decades. It seems that the two candidates are taking their lead from former Attorney General Darrell McGraw — behold to campaign cash from personal injury lawyers and big department budgets to further their own political aspirations.”

ATRA said it developed the Transparency Code as a collection of model policies that should govern the use of outside counsel by state attorneys general. Attorneys general play a critical role in creating a fairer system for all as states’ head law enforcement officers.

According to ATRA, 23 states – including West Virginia – have passed laws reflecting principles of the Transparency Code. In 2016, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill that prohibits the state from entering into a contingency-fee contract with a private attorney unless the AG or their designee makes a written determination that private representation is cost-effective and in the best interest of the public. It also requires the AG’s office to post any requests for proposal on their website and to hire outside counsel based on a competitive bidding process.

“We hope to build on these best practices by working with West Virginia’s next AG to ensure these important reforms continue to be upheld in 2021 and beyond,” Joyce said.

Joyce said increasing government transparency and reducing excessive litigation are critical aspects of enhancing a state’s economic development climate and growing job opportunities. He said ATRA is committed to continue its work with state and local leaders toward improving our civil justice system.

Joyce said attorneys general need the discretion and independence to enforce state law, free from the influence of parties that may have a private interest in the outcome of any litigation their office may take on.

“In every instance, a state’s attorney general should seek to provide the highest quality services at the best value for hardworking taxpayers when considering whether to contract with outside counsel,” Joyce said. “Signing ATRA’s Transparency Code is critical to bringing greater transparency and accountability to the Office of Attorney General in West Virginia.”

This article originally appeared in the West Virginia Record.

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