McGraw case not stayed by bankruptcy, judge rules

John O'Brien Nov. 27, 2007, 4:26pm



NEW MARTINSVILLE, W. Va. - A federal bankruptcy judge recently ruled that West Virgina Attorney General Darrell McGraw may proceed with his case against Iams Funeral Home even though it filed for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy Court Judge Patrick Flatley made the decision Nov. 19, allowing McGraw to continue in a case where he is facing Morgantown attorney Hiram Lewis, the man who may earn the Republican bid in next year's Attorney General's race.

Lewis is representing John Iams II, who was sued earlier this year by McGraw for alleged violations of the Preneed Funeral Contracts Act. McGraw has a division dedicated to enforcing the act.

Flatley rejected Lewis' argument that by filing for bankruptcy, his client was allowed a stay of the proceedings and protection from having to transfer his existing preneed contracts. Flatley decided that McGraw is enforcing his police and regulatory powers on behalf of consumers.

"The decision allows the Consumer Protection Division of my office to uphold its statutory responsibility to enforce the Preneed Funeral Contracts Act and protect consumers," McGraw said.

Previously, Wetzel County Circuit Judge John Madden ordered Iams to stop selling preneed contracts and transfer his existing ones. Lewis says he hasn't sold one since 2005, and he is currently not licensed to sell one, though his existing contracts have an aggregate value of $318,000.

Lewis claims the suit is "retaliation for questioning the practices of the Attorney General's office."

Lewis and McGraw have already fought for the office in 2004, resulting in the closest Attorney General's vote in state history. Both received 50 percent of the vote, with McGraw grabbing 5,307 more of the nearly 703,000 votes.

A fair amount of mutual hostility was displayed during the campaign. McGraw would not sit next to Lewis or respond to his questions during a meeting with the Charleston Gazette's editorial board, and Lewis publicly debated a man in a chicken suit because McGraw refused to participate.

McGraw is seeking his fifth term as Attorney General. Lewis is a 36-year-old Morgantown attorney and former Army Ranger. McGraw also served in the Army.

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