Lawyers, lobbyists court state AGs

Chris Rizo Aug. 6, 2008, 10:15am

Lawrence Wasden (R)

SEATTLE, Wash. (Legal Newsline)-Many of the western states' attorneys general are in Seattle today for their annual meeting, and with them came legions of industry leaders, lobbyists and trial lawyers to hobnob with some of the most high-profile legal officers in the nation.

Conference organizers say the conference is open to anyone who pays the $1,250 registration fee.

Attending the three-day summer meeting of the Conference of Western Attorneys General are 28 AGs and roughly 250 lawyers, lobbyists, executives and public relations representatives, said Karen White, executive director of the Conference of Western Attorneys General, based in Sacramento, Calif.

The attorneys general have on their agenda, among other things, discussions on Native American affairs, tobacco litigation, health care issues, consumer protection and environmental law, White said.

Indeed there is a mix of conference attendees, said Chris Coppin, legal director for the Conference of Western Attorneys General.

Coppin said CWAG aims to engage industry leaders and private practice lawyers with the attorneys general.

"We try to mix as many different perspectives as possible," he said. "It's not just the AGs sitting around talking (among) themselves."

But some tort reform advocates say although many observers are attending the conference for "legitimate" reasons, many of the trial lawyer attendees came to the Evergreen State in the hopes of forging relationships with the attorneys general and their chief deputies.

Specifically, they're hoping to score roles as private counsel for a state legal action, which can bring millions into a law firm's coffers, said Jim Copland, director of the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute.

Copland said the plaintiffs' bar involvement with conferences like CWAG's dates back to the Master Settlement Agreement, reached in 1998 between tobacco companies and 46 states and six U.S. territories, to settle lawsuits that states had filed to recover government costs associated with people who became ill from smoking or tobacco-related illnesses.

"The plaintiffs' lawyers realized they could make a lot of money by handling these sorts of cases for the states," Copland said, noting that attorneys generals have used outsourced litigation on firearms, lead paint, and will soon add sub-prime mortgage litigation to the list.

Copland said his and other tort reform organizations have no need to attend the CWAG conference.

"I would attend (the conference) if I was invited to speak; I would not go to just shake hands," he said. "But the trial lawyers have a vested interest to do that."

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he is not so sure if that's the case.

Wasden, a Republican, who is the immediate past president of the National Association of Attorneys General, said one of the aims of the AGs' meetings is to, among other things, convene a divergent group of legal perspectives.

"One of the purposes of a conference like this one is to hear a variety of opinions," Wasden told Legal Newsline.

"As an attorney general, that is actually fairly helpful. It doesn't mean you necessarily buy whatever someone is selling, but you've got to be able to hear both sides of the debate," he added.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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