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Morrisey's solicitor general doesn't have W.Va. law license

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's new solicitor general doesn't have a license to practice law in West Virginia.

Elbert Lin, a former Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who joined Morrisey's senior staff last week, apparently hasn't yet applied for a West Virginia law license - a process that typically takes three to five months. He must first pass a professional conduct exam, which he plans to take in April, before he can formally apply for a West Virginia law license.

Morrisey's office said Lin was "in the process of applying" for a license, but wouldn't say whether he submitted an application.

Meantime, Morrisey has changed Lin's title from solicitor general to "senior assistant to the attorney general," according to state payroll forms.

Lin makes $132,000 a year.

"Mr. Lin's title as senior assistant to the attorney general is intended to avoid any implication that he is holding himself out in a representative capacity," Morrisey's spokeswoman, Beth Ryan, said Thursday. 

Until Lin receives his West Virginia law license, he won't be allowed to appear before a court of law and sign legal pleadings on behalf of the attorney general's office, Ryan said. The only exception: Lin could be admitted to appear in court on a particular matter "pro hac vice," which requires special permission from a judge.

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners will review Lin's application when he applies for a license. The state Supreme Court also must approve it.

"Our applications are confidential," said Madeleine J. Nibert, the state's bar admissions administrator. "Once they're admitted to practice law in West Virginia, the approval of their application becomes a public record."

Lin has licenses to practice law in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. West Virginia's board has law license reciprocity agreements with both states.

However, Lin must pass a "multi-state professional responsibility exam" on lawyers' professional conduct. Lin has registered for the April test.

"Mr. Lin is in the process of seeking reciprocity licensure ..." Ryan said. "Until such time as that process is completed, we have implemented internal controls with respect to Mr. Lin that are consistent with those of similarly situated attorneys hired from out of state and employed by private law firms in West Virginia."

Lin, a graduate of Yale Law School, has practiced law since 2003. He's licensed to practice in several federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

At a press conference last month, Morrisey announced Lin's hiring as solicitor general, a new position in the attorney general's office.

Morrisey selected Lin to head a new Office of Federalism and Freedom. The office was established to challenge federal policies that "have a tenuous nexus to law, or the U.S. and West Virginia constitutions," Morrisey said.

Morrisey said the office will target federal laws - such as gun control measures and environmental regulations -- that he believes aren't in West Virginia's best interests.

Before coming to West Virginia, Lin worked as a partner at Wiley Rein, a prestigious Washington law firm. He previously served as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He also was a trial attorney for the U.S. Justice Department.

"Upon completion of the reciprocity licensure process, Mr. Lin - an individual with impeccable legal credentials - will assume the official title and responsibilities of solicitor general," Ryan said in a statement.

Also Thursday, Morrisey announced that West Virginia has filed a "friend of the court" brief in a gun control case that's before the U.S. Supreme Court. West Virginia becomes the 19th state to file a legal brief in the lawsuit that challenges a New York law that requires gun owners to show a particular need to obtain a permit to carry weapons outside their homes.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the New York law.

Morrisey said the court's decision is "troublesome because it concludes the Second Amendment's protections end at a person's front door."

"Under the text of the Second Amendment, this right necessarily extends outside the home," Morrisey said Thursday in a press release. "We have the right to keep and bear arms; one keeps arms inside the home, but one bears arms outside of the home. Any ruling to the contrary simply ignores this plain language."

Morrisey said the New York case has the potential to affect gun rights in West Virginia, which has reciprocity agreements with other states.  "The ability of other states to restrict law-abiding citizens to carry weapons outside of the home means that permits issued in West Virginia will not be recognized in those states," Morrisey said.

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


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