ATRA surveying AG candidates on outside counsel contracts

John O'Brien Apr. 12, 2010, 2:32pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The American Tort Reform Association is asking candidates for attorney general in 29 states their views on hiring private lawyers to represent their respective offices on contingency fees.

ATRA sent a questionnaire to 70 candidates on Monday to probe their views on the increasingly controversial practice. ATRA has advocated more transparency in the process and even crafted its own transparency code.

"With increasing regularity, some state attorneys general are hiring personal injury lawyers from the private sector to perform legal work for the state, often involving lucrative contingency fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds," ATRA president Tiger Joyce said.

"Abusive use of outside counsel by some state attorneys general is well-documented, as political supporters reap windfall rewards from no-bid state contracts with little or no public accountability or the checks-and-balances state governments should provide."

ATRA's code of conduct values disclosure, oversight and accountability in the process of state attorneys general hiring private practice firms to represent their states.

The seven-question survey asks each candidate if he or she would accept campaign contributions from private attorneys who wish to represent the state.

Responses to five other questions ask what, if any, action the candidate would take in five areas.

Those areas are disclosure of all contracts on the Internet, competitive bidding for contracts, oversight by the state's legislature, reporting information concerning work performed by the attorneys and placing monies recovered in the state treasury.

The candidate is also asked if he or she would support legislation that codified the five principles.

Former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore said the use of outside counsel is sometimes necessary, and that "adherence to the best practices reflected in ATRA's recommendations will help strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the institution of state attorneys general."

ATRA said it will post the results of the survey on its AG Watch Web site.

The Florida Legislature recently made state Attorney General Bill McCollum's practices regarding outside counsel a law. The law caps the amount private attorneys can make representing the state and also implemented transparency measures.

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