CALA: Pay-to-play again on display in W.Va.

John O'Brien Sep. 16, 2009, 4:17pm


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - A legal watchdog group is concerned that West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has again hired campaign contributors to pursue a lawsuit on behalf of the State.

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says those hired by McGraw for a suit against Rite-Aid have contributed more than $60,000 to McGraw, who accuses the company of overcharging for generic drugs.

"Similar pay-to-play allegations have created a political earthquake in Pennsylvania recently, and unfortunately for West Virginia the practice appears to be far too commonplace for Attorney General McGraw as well," CALA Executive Director Richie Heath said.

The two firms -- Bailey & Glasser and DiTrapano, Barrett & DiPiero -- gave $11,800 to McGraw for his 2008 campaign against Republican Dan Greear.

Heath noted that McGraw's office does not have to field bids for each contract or disclose how the attorneys were selected.

McGraw's highest-profile cases in which he hired outside counsel that contributed to his campaigns are his 2001 suit against OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma that resulted in more than one-third of a $10 million settlement going to the attorneys and a settlement with Visa and MasterCard that yielded $3.9 million in attorneys fees.

McGraw's office has a similar disdain for CALA. Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes feels the group's grassroots image is a sham, and that it is funded by out-of-state corporate interests.

Hughes approached former Executive Director Steve Cohen after a hearing in Wheeling and said it was dishonest to call his group a watchdog when it was a business group.

"One of these days you will be exposed, and you will get your due," she told Cohen.

Cohen had asked a state judge to demand information that showed the $3.9 million the attorneys requested in the Visa/MasterCard case is justified. The judge denied his request.

Last year, Hughes said CALA's objective is "to foster a legal environment that shields its contributors from accountability when they break the law."

A recent settlement in McGraw's case against Eli Lilly & Co. yielded $6.75 million for outside counsel. Heath also mentioned that court records show outside counsel may have earned more than $3,000 per hour for their work on the Visa/MasterCard case.

"Clearly, there is a need for greater transparency in the Attorney General's Office," Heath said. "The Attorney General's Office has been less than forthcoming in disclosing such information -
even through Freedom of Information Act requests."

The Pennsylvania case Heath mentioned involves Gov. Ed Rendell hiring Texas plaintiffs firm Bailey Perrin Bailey to pursue an action against Janssen Pharmaceutica.

BPB donated $75,000 directly to Rendell and another $16,000 in airplane travel. Janssen's attorneys have asked the state Supreme Court to disqualify BPB because attorneys for a public agency should not have a financial stake in the outcome of a case.

Rendell arranged for BPB to meet with state Attorney General Tom Corbett, but Corbett declined their offer. Rendell then hired BPB to file the suit on behalf of his office.

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