McGraw defends actions, talks about critics

Chris Dickerson Aug. 7, 2007, 9:22pm

West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, left, presents a $10,000 check to the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance on Tuesday. (Photo by Chris Dickerson)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw on Tuesday again defended the way his office doles out OxyContin settlement money.

After presenting a $10,000 check to the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance for its Jabez Project, McGraw spoke about critics of his actions.

"We have lots of critics, and it's difficult to address their issues," McGraw said after the presentation at the Roosevelt Neighborhood Center on Charleston's East End. "What do you say? We're giving these groups this money per court order."

The Jabez Project began in 2002 and is "designed to be a prevention and intervention project providing young people the necessary skills to resist the social pressure to use tobacco, use alcohol or use drugs," according to a press release from McGraw's office. "The project also educates young people as to devastating consequences of substance abuse. The main goal of the Jabez Project is to counter risky behaviors using prevention and intervention methods such as introducing youth to people, programs and processes that will promote better behavior, health and well-being."

Some of the activities the Jabez Project has done include trips to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, career camps, basketball camps, youth mentoring, a Tuesday Night Youth Intervention Program, a tour of the former state penitentiary in Moundsville, a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Tennessee and a tour of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Maryland.

"In our business, we are patently concerned about the threat that drugs present in our society," McGraw said. "The purpose of that settlement was to provide money to drug treatment programs. The judge wanted the money to go to community programs."

In the last few days, McGraw has dispersed even more OxyContin settlement money.

On Monday, he gave $30,000 to the Braxton County Fellowship Home, a transitional facility for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers. Last Thursday, he gave $15,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Weirton to assist their drug prevention education programs Power Hour and Smart Moves.

"The bulk of the money, including one million dollars from this year's distribution, has been used to assist programs which are dedicated to fighting substance abuse," a press release from McGraw's office states.

McGraw said his office has procured more than $2 billion for the state in his 16 years as Attorney General.

"By anyone's count, and particular by West Virginia government, $2 billion is a lot of money," he said. "The money the Attorney General's office has procured has balanced the state budget. It also allowed for the Attorney General's office's idea of a Physicians Mutual, as well as funded the Teachers' Retirement System and the Workers' Compensation System.

"It should be noted that 99.97 percent of the money procured by the Attorney General's office goes into the (state) general fund. The Budget Digest program was enabled by the work of the Attorney General's office.

"So, when people say the Legislature doesn't have a role in this, they just don't know what they're talking about."

Speaking about his critics, McGraw said he prefers to avoid such confrontation.

"To respond to that type of aggression would be detrimental," he said. "In the work we do, we're happy. We like what we do for the people of West Virginia.

"Our major critics, it should be noted, are members of organizations that oppose us - people who are being promoted by lobbyists. Of course, they have an agenda. Big tobacco, big medicine and other big, big, big interests. These are organizations that take advantage of regular people.

"They're the big dogs, and we're the underdogs."

Those critics include the United States Chamber of Commerce, which owns The West Virginia Record and LegalNewsline.

"The National Chamber, as I call them, is made up of ... almost all of these people have been involved in litigation accusing them of violating the law," McGraw said. "Your paper is 'interest journalism' intended to promote the welfare of its members.

Still, he said he refuses to engage in a "journalistic back-and-forth," saying Tuesday's press conference wasn't an appropriate place to do so.

"Anytime one mounts a defense, one encourages another attack," he said. "We're here to celebrate and wrap ourselves in the Jabez Project.

"We should approach life with humble and thankful hearts. The Bible admonishes us to speak softly. Harsh words engender harsh responses. Soft answers turneth away wrath. Harsh answers stir strife.

"We have our opponents who make a political issue out of what ought to be a justice issue. It's important to us that we seek resolution rather than confrontation."

Another of those critics is the group West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said McGraw's continual check dispersals are jeopardizing federal Medicaid funding for West Virginia.

He also said McGraw continues to defy a pledge his chief deputy made to the Legislature earlier this year.

Since Fran Hughes told the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 12 that the AG's office would cease this "controversial practice," the attorney general has handed out more than $1 million in settlement money.

"Darrell McGraw has basically converted public dollars into his own political slush fund, for such things as a Sesame Street exhibit," Cohen said. "His spending practices could deny health care to West Virginia's poor and disabled."

In May, federal officials warned that unless the state turned over a share of lawsuit settlement dollars owed to the Medicaid program, the federal government could forfeit its match of future state money under the program.

That stems from the fact that the state Department of Health and Human Resources was a plaintiff in the suit McGraw settled for $10 million with Purdue Pharma, alleging the manufacturer failed to adequately disclose the side effects of OxyContin. The state's Division of Workers' Compensation and Public Employees Insurance Agency were also named by McGraw as plaintiffs, but McGraw has never given them the money he went to court to collect for them.

"Ethics rules require that a lawyer inform his clients on any settlement agreement," Cohen said. "Darrell McGraw certainly seems to be operating outside the law." Cohen noted that, "Evidence suggests that McGraw insufficiently consulted with his three state agency plaintiffs about settling the lawsuit.

"His questionable ethics should be addressed by the Legislature."

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