Western AGs meet in Idaho

Chris Rizo Aug. 2, 2009, 9:38pm

SUN VALLEY, Idaho (Legal Newsline)--The attorneys general from 16 western states are meeting in this resort town for the next three days to discuss a bevy of legal issues related to the West, including water rights, Indian gaming and cross-border relations with Mexican authorities.

In addition, the chief legal officers will discuss such perennial issues as consumer protection, federal preemption and recently decided U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Participating in the first day of the four-day meeting of the Conference of Western Attorneys General were Mexico Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora and a group state attorneys general from his country.

CWAG Executive Director Karen White said Sunday evening that attendance at this year's CWAG meeting dipped from about 620 last year and about 700 at the conference a year before. This year, she said, there are about 500 attendees.

"I thought we would shrink like the rest of the economy," she told Legal Newsline. "But we still have lots of support, lots of interest and the same programming."

State budget constraints in some states, including in Texas, Rhode Island and Hawaii, have kept some attendees away, White said.

Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett, a Republican gubernatorial appointee, said he would not be attending the conference amid plans that the Aloha State will layoff 1,100 state workers.

"Mark Bennett called and said, 'You know, I love this organization and we are laying people off so I am not traveling, period,'" she said. "Lots of states are hurting."

On hand for the CWAG conference is a legion of lobbyists and private attorneys on both sides of the bar-- here to hobnob with some of the most high-profile legal officers in the nation, including California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Jon Bruning of Nebraska, president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Tort reform groups have charged that many trial lawyers are drawn to CWAG's meetings in hopes of forging relationships with the attorneys general and their chief deputies that might lead to securing roles as private, contingency counsel for a state legal action -- roles that can bring their firms millions of dollars in attorneys fees.

The plaintiffs' bar involvement with conferences like CWAG's dates back to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states and six U.S. territories. The settlement resolved lawsuits states had filed to recover government costs associated with people with tobacco-related illnesses.

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