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Incoming attorney general sets up integrity unit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General-elect Patrick Morrisey plans to establish a "public integrity unit" that will team up with county prosecutors to crack down on corruption, Morrisey said at a news conference at the state Capitol Wednesday.

Morrisey, who takes office next week, said lawyers in his office could work as special prosecutors, assisting county prosecuting attorneys with investigations of state and local officials.

"We'll be partnering up, collaborating with county prosecutors," said Morrisey, a Republican who defeated longtime Democratic Attorney General Darrell McGraw in the November election.

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants said he has talked twice with Morrisey during the past month.

Under state law, West Virginia's attorney general has no authority to prosecute criminal cases.

"I'll gladly work with Mr. Morrisey, but at the end of the day, only my office and the U.S. Attorneys Office have the authority to prosecute in Kanawha County," Plants said. "I'm certainly not going to give up the job I was elected to do. The AG's office has no prosecutorial powers."

Morrisey also talked Wednesday morning with U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin about his plans for the public integrity unit. Goodwin's office prosecutes the bulk of public corruption cases in Southern West Virginia.

Goodwin said he hopes to keep an "open line of communication" with Morrisey's office. 

"I listened to his proposals. In no way, shape or form did I endorse them," Goodwin said. "I offered no opinion on what he planned to do. That's not my place."

At Wednesday's news conference, Morrisey named Marty Wright to head up the new public integrity unit. Wright formerly worked as a lawyer with the state Ethics Commission. He previously served as an assistant prosecutor in Ohio County.

As deputy attorney general/public integrity officer, Wright also will be responsible for overseeing ethics reforms within the Attorney General's office.

During the campaign, Morrisey pledged to ban the use of self-promoting trinkets, and he vowed to prohibit the use of any "broad-based" office advertising six months before the next election.

Morrisey said Wright also would oversee a new competitive bidding system for selecting lawyers who contract with the Attorney General's office.

Other Morrisey hires announced Wednesday include:

• Dan Greear, chief counsel. Greear, a former legislator, ran unsuccessfully for West Virginia attorney general in 2008. He also lost a race for Kanawha circuit judge in 2010.

• Elbert Lin, solicitor general. Lin, a Washington D.C., lawyer, was a former clerk to conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Morrisey said Lin has a national reputation as a "top-flight constitutional and appellate advocate."

The Attorney General's office has never previously employed a solicitor general. Lin will oversee the office's appeals division and challenge "overreaching" federal laws that negatively affect West Virginia, Morrisey said.

"The solicitor general will be responsible for the federal lawsuits I will be bringing," Morrisey said. "We need to be less of a show horse and more of a workhorse."

• Richie Heath, deputy attorney general. Heath is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a group that opposed McGraw during the campaign.

• Tracy Webb, deputy attorney general. Webb formerly worked as general counsel at the West Virginia Housing Development Fund.

• Chris Dodrill, Jennifer Greenlief and Shane Wilson, assistant attorney generals. Dodrill is a Charleston city council member, Greenlief worked for a Charleston law firm, and Wilson graduated this year from West Virginia University's law school.

"We have a great deal of work to accomplish, but with the assistance of these individuals, and the many other talented people already working in the [office], it will only be a matter of time before our office is widely respected as one of the top 'law firms' in the state and country," Morrisey said in a news release. "We will always seek to recruit the best and the brightest attorneys from every part of West Virginia and the U.S. so that we can put the needs of West Virginians first."

Also Wednesday, Morrisey announced plans to hold a news conference next week during which he will "dispose of trinkets" that McGraw's office purchased with state funds and passed out to West Virginians.

"It's going to be a made-for-TV event," Morrisey promised.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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