The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

March 7, 2014

Attorney general ethics bill likely dead

Effort fizzles in state Senate

CHARLESTON — A push to impose stricter conflict-of-interest standards on West Virginia’s attorney general has fizzled in the state Senate.

Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, says there’s little interest in his committee to hear the bill, which targets Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. With Saturday’s finish to the legislative session approaching, Palumbo said the bill is close to dead.

The proposal stems from Morrisey’s ties to two pharmaceutical companies, Cardinal Health and Sanofi, his office was suing. A former attorney general initiated the suit over prescription pill profits the companies made in West Virginia. Morrisey recused himself. Two other state agencies are now overseeing the case.

Morrisey lobbied for Sanofi and his wife lobbies for both companies.

The proposal would prohibit the attorney general from overseeing cases against companies that pay or have paid the attorney general or his family in the past five years. The attorney general also couldn’t take legal stances conflicting with state entities or officials.

In the bill, the Legislature would also have more control doling out money that the attorney general directly controls currently, what Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, called the legal officer’s “slush fund.”

Palumbo said the consensus was that there are already ethical standards in place for lawyers that apply to the attorney general. He said there was also concern about another part of the bill, which would give the governor oversight of lawyers that the attorney general would have to hire during conflicts.

“I talked to most, if not all, the members, and there just hasn’t been much interest in doing anything with that,” Palumbo said of the bill Wednesday.

The bill furthered a tussle between House Democrats and Morrisey, West Virginia’s first Republican attorney general in 80 years. The House passed the bill along party lines on Feb. 24.

Morrisey has said the legislation singles out one office, while letting the governor and lawmakers abide by current conflict standards. He said the bill would cost millions of dollars in hiring outside lawyers and could jeopardize ongoing investigations.

House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the attorney general should be held to the highest standard because of the uniqueness of the judicial-executive hybrid job.

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