CHARLESTON – The House of Delegates today passed legislation containing two basic elements: the proper management of taxpayer settlement funds, and procedures for an attorney general to follow when faced with a conflict of interest.
“When you strip away personalities and politics, it comes down to the simple question: Is this good public policy? I truly believe this is,” House Speaker Tim Miley said.
House Bill 4490 creates an Attorney General's Litigation Support Fund intended to contain attorney fees and related expenses received by the attorney general a result of any civil litigation or administrative proceedings. That money is then appropriated by the Legislature.
“Just as a private attorney can’t keep a client’s money, the attorney general shouldn’t be able to keep taxpayer money recovered by him,” Miley said.
Delegate Stephen Skinner noted that there have been multiple efforts over the years to clarify that point through legislation
“The most successful attempt was 2004, when the House Democratic leadership introduced a bill which passed the House but died in the Senate,” he said. “The attorney general at that time was Democrat Darrell McGraw.”
HB4490 also establishes a clear protocol for when an attorney general faces a possible conflict of interest.
“As I have said before, this legislation is focused on the attorney general because among the West Virginia constitutional officers, the attorney general is unique,” the Speaker said. “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.”
When the Legislature audited the Department of Agriculture, conflicts of interest issues were found within its loan program, prompting corrective legislation, Delegate Isaac Sponaugle noted. Similarly, reports of the current Attorney General facing a conflict of interest with no specific rules to follow prompted this measure.
“He had a conflict of interest that he acknowledged and took steps to address, but there is not a clear procedure for handling such conflicts, such as there are for county prosecutors,” Sponaugle said. “We merely want to place in code standard procedure for that type of situation, so there can be no question as to whether the conflict was sufficiently addressed.
“We want to assure the public that any West Virginia Attorney General’s Office will not be clouded by conflicts of interest issues.”