John O'Brien Jul. 22, 2010, 12:18pm
WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Jerry Brown is the worst current state attorney general, according to a group that promotes free enterprise and limited government.
Brown topped a list of six attorneys general -- all of them Democrats -- who received criticism from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Hans Bader wrote in his report, released Thursday, that the office was designed to have limited power but that is not the case anymore.
Brown's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
"In recent years, many state AGs have increasingly usurped the roles of state legislatures and Congress by using lawsuits to impose interstate and national regulations and extract money from out-of-state defendants who have little voice in a state's political processes," Bader wrote.
Bader also authored a similar report in 2007 that profiled who it felt were the 10 worst state attorneys general in recent history. That report named Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal the worst.
CEI ranked the AGs on what it felt were ethical braches, selective applications of the law, fabricating law, usurping legislative powers and predatory practices.
The report slams Brown for not defending a state law that prohibited gay marriage.
"Absurdly, Brown claimed that Proposition 8 somehow violated the state constitution-even though it is actually part of California's constitution," Bader wrote.
Brown initially agreed to defend it but flip-flopped before a deadline.
Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California and President Barack Obama's pick to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, said it was "extraordinary for the chief law enforcement officer of the state to decline to enforce a law-even on the grounds that it is unconstitutional."
Bader also says Brown's environmental lawsuits block energy projects in the state and aim to regulate other states.
"Brown has engaged in this kind of green activism without regard to the effects on the state's economy," Bader wrote. "In 2008, he threatened to sue to block a proposed water bottling plant in Northern California unless its effects on global warming were evaluated.
"Nestle wanted to bottle water from three natural springs that supply McCloud, a depressed former lumber town about 280 miles north of San Francisco that badly needs jobs... Shortly after Brown's threat, Nestle cancelled the project and the 100 jobs the plant would have created evaporated along with it."
Brown is currently running for governor against former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.
Much like the 2007 report, Bader's main issue with Blumenthal is his involvement in the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. CEI has long opposed the MSA, which it says prevents fair competition in the tobacco market.
Bader calls Blumenthal "a left-wing idealogue." Blumenthal is running for U.S. Senate this year.
"As the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Connecticut observed, had the tobacco company executives entered into a similar settlement without the collusion of the attorneys general, 'they would long ago have had depressing conversations with their attorneys about the United States Sentencing Guidelines,'" Bader wrote.
"By getting a state official such as Blumenthal to sign their settlement, the tobacco companies were able to claim that the cartel was exempt from antitrust laws under a loophole known as 'state action' immunity, which exempts many state-recognized cartels under the generous assumption that state officials would not sign off on a cartel unless it promoted the public interest."
The report says Blumenthal steered $65 million in fees to his own allies and the associates of former Gov. John Rowland, later convicted of corruption in an unrelated matter.
Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a candidate for governor, is ranked third.
"Edmondson appears to have had no problem with accepting money from out-of-state lawyers, wealthy special interests, and even felons," the report says.
"He has violated state ethics rules and campaign laws. And he has steered lucrative government contracts to lawyers who give him donations (such as generous contingency fees for lawyers that give them up to $250 million simply for bringing copycat lawsuits that mimic pending lawsuits brought by other trial lawyers, and give the lawyers up to 50 percent of what the state recovers)."
Fourth is Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who recently ended his campaign for governor. He has reached his term limit as AG.
The report criticizes the unsuccessful lead paint litigation for which Lynch hired plaintiffs firm Motley Rice.
"At the end of the day, Lynch's lead paint lawsuit achieved nothing, other than waste thousands of hours of attorney time, and give Rhode Island a reputation for having a bad legal climate - a big disincentive for businesses to move there and create jobs," the report says.
Fifth is longtime West Virginia attorney general Darrell McGraw. McGraw is well known for hiring campaign contributors to represent the State in litigation.
He is also known for a 2004 settlement with Purdue Pharma worth $10 million. More than $3 million went to lawyers hired to represent the State, and McGraw doled out the rest.
Eventually, the federal government wondered where its share was. The lawsuit claimed the state's Medicaid program, largely funded by the federal government, was defrauded. The federal Medicaid agency has withheld millions of dollars in funding as a result.
"Had the settlement been paid back into the state treasury rather than doled out to McGraw's friends, it might have resulted in the state receiving as much as $30 million in federal matching funds," Bader wrote.
Sixth is Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell for introducing the idea of making tobacco companies retroactively liable for the state's Medicaid bills.
"With the playing field suddenly tilted against them, the tobacco companies settled soon after Sorrell sued them under the revised law," Bader wrote.
"Wealthy trial lawyers got a big cut of the loot from that lawsuit, and smokers ended up paying the tab. Almost a decade later, Sorrell's law remains an extremely dangerous precedent for other businesses whose products can be alleged to have an ill effect on public health."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.