Chris Dickerson Jun. 16, 2008, 12:45pm
CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia Attorney General candidate Dan Greear has called out current AG Darrell McGraw for his recent appointment of three campaign contributors as Special Assistants.
"McGraw receives contributions from a number of trial lawyer firms and in return hires those same contributors rewarding them with lucrative employment at taxpayers' expense," Greear said Monday. "If you review McGraw's campaign finance reports and the corresponding appointments he has made during his tenure you will easily spot the parallel."
Last week, The West Virginia Record reported that McGraw had appointed four Special Assistant AGs to investigate whether the Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company misled state teachers to invest in its low interest fixed-rate annuities. They were Charleston attorneys Jim Lees, Anthony Majestro and James Peterson as well as Jonathan Turak of Moundsville.
Majestro, Peterson and Turak each have contributed $1,000 to McGraw's campaign. Also, members and family from Peterson's firm gave a total of $5,000 to the McGraw war chest. People at Turak's firm gave a total of $2,000.
Over the years, members of Peterson's firm have given more than $20,000 to McGraw's election efforts. Turak and Majestro's firms have also given to McGraw in the past.
"I absolutely refuse to believe the only capable attorneys in this state are those who contribute to Darrell McGraw," Greear said. "This is yet another example of the arrogant practices of our current Attorney General. He continues to abuse the powers of the Attorney General's office and most notably, it is always at taxpayers' expense."
Greear, a former legislator himself, noted that the Legislature has scrutinized McGraw's office for its history of awarding settlement money at their discretion rather than affording it to the appropriate government agency involved in the case. HB 104 was passed in a special legislative session this year immediately following the regular legislative session. The bill requires McGraw's office notify the Legislature before dispersing any funds obtained by the office for the people of West Virginia.
Greear has maintained a position that he will limit appointment of Special Assistant AGs if he wins the seat.
"Since day one of my campaign, I have stated our office will only appoint Special Assistant Attorney Generals when absolutely necessary," Greear said. "If there is ever a need for an expertise in a specific area of law, I will implement a fair and open bidding process, open to all attorneys of West Virginia. This will ensure that West Virginians get the best possible legal representation for their dollar."
Greear, a partner at the Charleston law firm Kesner, Kesner & Bramble, won the Republican nomination in the May primary. He faces the incumbent McGraw in the fall.
Bell & Bands and The Webb Law Firm, both in Charleston, filed a class action last month in Marshall Circuit Court against VALIC, alleging sales representatives duped Teacher Defined Contribution participants into investing in safer annuities rather than in riskier stocks and bonds.
Earlier this year, Gov. Joe Manchin tapped Lees to be a special advisor to help the state resolve teacher pension issues. Lees represented Teachers Defined Contribution enrollees who successfully sued to block a 2005 plan that aimed to merge that program completely with the Teachers Retirement System.
McGraw's use of Special Assistant AGs has drawn criticism before.
Some have complained that these attorneys he's appointed to serve as Special Assistant AGs have made significant contributions to his political campaigns.
Legislation to tightened the belt on the AG office's contracts with outside attorneys have been introduced, but never passed.
In 2006, McGraw's office terminated the January appointments of Weirton attorneys M. Eric Frankovitch and Michael Simon as Special Assistant Attorneys General in a case they already were working as private attorneys. The companies involved had filed a suit claiming McGraw overstepped his boundaries when he appointed the Weirton attorneys to be Special Assistant AGs.
In January 2007, the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an order involving the use of the Special Assistant Attorneys General in that case. Justice Brent Benjamin was the lone Justice to vote to hear the appeal.
Chief Deputy AG Fran Hughes has, in the past, dismissed the claim about the office appointing special assistant AGs on the basis of campaign contributions.
"Any judicial officer receives contributions from the bar, but Attorney General McGraw does not appoint special assistant attorneys general based on campaign contributions," Hughes told The Record in 2006.
Another criticism about McGraw's use of outside counsel is the fact that the jobs aren't put up for bid.
Hughes dismisses that notion as well in 2006, calling the process "not tenable."
"Think of the terms," she said. "We don't know how long we want you to work, or how much it will cost you, or how much you'll be paid. The attorneys selected are highly skilled, and have the capital and the infrastructure to try large cases."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Chris Dickerson via e-mail at email@example.com.