SANTA FE (Legal Newsline) - New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, in an effort to make the process of hiring outside counsel more transparent, said Monday his office now will seek bids from law firms and appoint a senior staff member to oversee the litigation.
The decision came after a three-month, office-wide review of all pending litigation involving outside counsel.
“As attorney general, I am committed to operating an open and transparent office that serves the best interest of New Mexicans,” said Balderas, who took office in January.
“Pursuant to my statutory authority and responsibilities regarding litigation on behalf of the state, this office will adhere strictly to an improved process regarding the use of outside counsel to ensure accountability and transparency.”
In December, the New York Times published an article showing that more attorneys general are hiring private law firms to file lawsuits on behalf of their states.
According to the Times article, private lawyers look for potential cases, approach attorneys general and then the attorneys general hire the firms to do the heavy lifting.
The firms front most of the cost of the investigation and litigation. They get a fee, usually 20 percent, and the state gets the rest of any money won.
At the same time, some of the same private lawyers donate thousands to the AGs’ campaigns, the Times found.
Balderas’ predecessor, Gary King, was featured prominently in the news article.
Balderas said he is committed to utilizing a set of best practices to ensure the office takes on “only meritorious cases” that are in the best interest of residents.
- The attorney general will make an independent determination that litigation pursued is in the state’s best interest;
- The office will review available resources and expertise within the agency, and will pursue representation by outside counsel only if it is cost-effective for the state and pertinent subject matter expertise is demonstrated;
- The office will retain complete control over the course and conduct of all litigation undertaken through outside counsel, including approval of pleadings, and ultimate authority over settlement and major decisions related to litigation strategy;
- The attorney general will appoint a senior staff member to oversee the course and conduct of all litigation undertaken through outside counsel;
- The office will ensure that all appropriate contractual and procurement processes are adhered to regarding the acquisition of outside counsel through an open and public Request for Proposal, or RFP, process; and
- All outside firms that are retained pursuant to this process will adhere to all applicable state and federal laws regarding access to and retention of records, along with all ethical and professional standards.
Balderas said he also is committed to making all documents pertinent to RFP processes -- including the total payment to outside counsel made by the Attorney General’s Office -- publicly available.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.