Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 16, 2013, 2:45pm

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a piece of legislation aimed at bringing transparency to the state's hiring of private sector attorneys on a contingency fee basis.

On Friday, Walker signed 25 different bills into law, including the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting Act, or Assembly Bill 27.

The measure, passed with bipartisan support, will be known as Wisconsin Act 105.

The law provides that the state may not enter into a contingency fee contract with any attorney or law firm unless the contracting agency first makes a written determination that such an arrangement is both cost-effective and in the public interest.

It also limits contingency fees relative to the size of the state's recovery in a lawsuit to help assure that litigation brought on behalf of the state serves the public interest, not simply the interests of politicians and their patrons among the plaintiffs' bar.

The law also requires the posting of any contract and any payment of contingency fees online for public scrutiny, among other things.

Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, applauded Walker for signing the bill.

"Gov. Walker helped Wisconsin take a significant step today to rein in the troublesome practice of awarding contingency fee contracts to outside plaintiffs' lawyers," she said in a statement Friday. "Such schemes enrich lawyers at the expense of taxpayers and raise concerns about 'pay-to-play,' conflicts of interest, the use of a public entity for personal gain, and fairness in prosecutions."

Wisconsin joins a growing number of states -- including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi and West Virginia -- that have taken action to limit outside contingency fee counsel arrangements by attorneys general.

"Wisconsin's law is the nation's strongest outside counsel sunshine measure to date," Rickard said. "In particular, it includes a prohibition on the use of civil penalties or fines to calculate contingency fee awards and a strong cap on the total amount of money that outside lawyers can collect.

"Other states should follow Wisconsin's lead and adopt equally strong laws."

Rickard commended state Sen. Glenn Grothman and state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, both Republicans and authors of the legislation. She also thanked the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen for his "thoughtful input throughout the process of developing this law."

The Institute for Legal Reform owns Legal Newsline.

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