Analyzing the upcoming race between the incumbent, Darrell McGraw, and his clean-government opponent, Dan Greear, the West Virginia Record has an extensive story on the West Virginia attorney general’s habit of giving lucrative no-bid contingency-fee contracts to his campaign contributors, as well as holding on to settlement money for his own personal slush fund. I am quoted at length and described as “widely regarded as one of the country’s leading voices in tort reform.” Also notable are quotes from another “Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who has written articles about the need for reform.” Kim Strassel also has a good piece on the subject in Friday’s Wall Street Journal:
To Mr. Greear’s advantage, his opponent is a case study of abuse in office. Mr. McGraw, in more than 14 years as West Virginia’s attorney general, has been a pioneer in the practice of filing questionable lawsuits against big companies, secretly doling out the legal work to outside trial lawyer friends who reap millions in fees. Those lawyers then turn around and donate heavily to Mr. McGraw’s re-election.
Polls show the public, in theory, disapproves. In a Tarrance Group survey last year, 75% of West Virginians think an attorney general should publicly disclose outside contracts with lawyers. Nearly 60% think attorneys should have to competitively bid for those jobs.
It’s this that motivates Mr. Greear. “I’ve watched what’s going on and thought: ‘If I were doing this to a client, I’d lose my law license.’ I don’t think any fair-thinking person can think this is good government, or good solid legal representation for West Virginia,” he tells me.
Also helping is that Mr. McGraw’s own sense of political immortality has recently landed him, and his state, in hot water. In 2001, he appointed four private law firms to sue drug companies for alleged deceptive advertising of OxyContin. Having forced a settlement in 2004, he handed his tort allies $3.3 million of the $10 million haul. Mr. McGraw had sued on behalf of state agencies (including the state’s Medicaid program) — yet his office kept the rest of the settlement money.
The federal government, which pays a significant portion of the state’s Medicaid bills, remains furious the program received none of the settlement, and is now threatening to withhold millions in Medicaid money. Mr. Greear is hitting hard on the uproar, using it to suggest Mr. McGraw has lost sight of why he’s suing companies, other than for the headlines.