CHARLESTON – In response to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s letter expressing objections to the Attorney General Ethics and Accountability Act legislation, House Speaker Tim Miley has asked the Attorney General to appear before the House Judiciary Committee to voice his concerns.
“It is unfortunate that the Attorney General did not attend the Judiciary Committee meeting during which HB4490 was discussed, so that he could convey what he characterizes as deep concerns about the legislation,” Speaker Miley said. “Whenever legislation affecting a public office is considered by a committee, it is standard procedure for the officeholder to closely follow the bill’s progress and attend committee meetings in order to answer members’ questions.”
Instead, on the day the House Judiciary Committee debated HB4490 Monday evening, the Attorney General met privately with Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to convey his position.
“This legislation is intended to set a new, much more appropriate and high standard for West Virginia attorney generals of the future, and members of the House Leadership value Mr. Morrisey’s perspective,” Speaker Miley said. “We want to help the West Virginia Attorney General be more effective in criminal and civil investigations and in targeting corruption and violations of our state’s consumer protection laws by ensuring proper management of taxpayer funds and eliminating any hint of a conflict of interest, which could only serve to undo the office’s purpose.”
The legislation is focused on the Attorney General because among the West Virginia constitutional officers, the Attorney General is unique. Being the legal representative of the state of West Virginia, the Attorney General is both an executive and judicial officer who must balance constitutional duties with the attorney-client relationship.
“Attorney General Morrisey is mistaken in believing our effort codify guidelines for operation of the office Attorney General is a personal attack,” Miley said. “This legislation is being pursued to address the office of Attorney General, to curtail any future Attorney General that may have conflicting views with the policy leaders of state government.”
During the House Judiciary meeting Monday, HB4490 was amended to add a requirement that an Attorney General consult with leaders of the executive or legislative branches prior to filing an Amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief.
“I certainly do not object to the current Attorney General’s efforts to protect the coal industry and our Second Amendment rights, but what would happen if a subsequent Attorney General instead files briefs to limit our Second Amendment rights or argues against our coal industry?” Speaker Miley said. “It is imperative that in such cases, the policy leaders of this state speak with one voice,”
The 2013 West Virginia Supreme Court case Discovery v. Nibert, in which the Court recognized inherent common law powers of the Attorney General, has been cited in discussions over the legislation. In that case, the Court also authorized the Legislature to enact limitations upon the Attorney General’s common law power (Syllabus point 3: “The Office of Attorney General retains inherent common law powers, when not expressly restricted or limited by statute.” ).
“Our bill only limits the Attorney General’s powers in two areas: expenditure of state monies and amicus filings,” Miley said. “I would very much like to hear Mr. Morrisey’s specific concerns regarding the unconstitutionality of this important piece of legislation, so we can consider them prior to enactment.”
The House leadership has asked Attorney General Morrisey to appear Thursday, Feb. 20, at 9 am, or Friday, Feb. 21, at 9 am, before the House Judiciary Committee. At that time, committee members can gain a complete understanding of the exact issues he has with the legislation.
Also to ensure that House members have all the accurate information related to this legislation, Speaker Miley is sending out copies of emails from a representative of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce in January, proposing legislation on this topic. The same email with attachments will be sent to Senate President Jeff Kessler.
“Given the input we had received from the Chamber on this matter, I was surprised today to see an email to all House members from state Chamber President Steve Roberts opposing HB4490,” Miley said. “I want to make sure members know that I consulted with and received recommendations from his organization. ”
* A PDF containing emails from the West Virginia Chamber to the Speaker and House Chief Counsel and the recommended language are attached.