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Morrisey defends $132K salary of aide who lacks W.Va. law license

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Friday defended his decision to keep the highest-paid lawyer in his office on the payroll, even though the lawyer won't be able to practice law in West Virginia for months.

Elbert Lin, who served as Morrisey's solicitor general for a day, can't sign legal pleadings or appear in court on the state's behalf without a West Virginia law license.

The state continues to pay Lin $132,000 a year, even though he isn't expected to secure a law license for three to five months. That was Lin's salary as solicitor general, even though his job title was quietly changed to "senior assistant to the attorney general" last week.

"In a time when our state is losing some of its brightest and best to opportunities in other states, we are extremely excited that the state of West Virginia has been able to attract such a high-caliber and distinguished legal talent," Morrisey said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Lin was willing to resign from a highly successful law practice and take a sizeable pay cut to commit to moving his family to our great state."

Lin lists a home address in Falls Church, Va., according to state personnel records.

Morrisey also ordered Lin not to speak to the media Friday.

"Mr. Lin will not be doing any interviews until he assumes the position of solicitor general," Morrisey said.

Lin actually started work as Morrisey's solicitor general -- a new position created by Morrisey -- on Feb. 4.

The following day, Morrisey's office submitted new paperwork, changing Lin's job title to senior assistant.

Last week, Morrisey would not answer questions about Lin's pay or the abrupt decision to change his title. Morrisey also wouldn't say if Lin has submitted an application for a license through the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners.

Lin, a former Washington, D.C., lawyer, has licenses to practice law in the District of Columbia and Massachusetts.

West Virginia has reciprocity agreements with D.C. and Massachusetts, but Lin still must take a professional conduct exam in April and undergo an extensive background check before he can secure a West Virginia law license. The state Supreme Court has final approval. The process typically takes three to five months, so it likely will be sometime this summer when Lin resumes his job as solicitor general.

"When this office announced Mr. Elbert Lin's hiring, and in numerous conversations since, we have said Mr. Lin would need to obtain reciprocal admission before he would assume all of his duties," Morrisey said. "As we said [Thursday], we are going through the same process any law firm goes through when it hires an attorney from out of state who currently is not licensed to practice law in West Virginia."

Morrisey announced Lin's hiring at a news conference at the state Capitol last month. Morrisey's news release makes no mention of the fact that Lin didn't have a West Virginia law license and that his duties would be limited until he secured one.

Morrisey said Lin will advance Morrisey's "agenda of tackling federal overreach and establishing a nationally respected appellate division," according to the release. Lin will head the attorney general's new Office of Federalism and Freedom, which was set up to challenge federal laws that Morrisey deems aren't in West Virginia's best interest.

Lin, 34, did not attend the Jan. 9 news conference.

Morrisey said he didn't know Lin until he contacted the Attorney General's Office about the new solicitor general post.

Lin, a graduate of Yale Law School, previously worked as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and as a trial attorney with the U.S. Justice Department.

He is a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, an organization of conservatives and libertarians. Morrisey has said that Lin has "impeccable legal credentials."

Morrisey's next highest-paid staff member -- after Lin -- is chief counsel Dan Greear, who makes $127,000 a year. Morrisey, whose salary is set by state law, earns $95,000.

Morrisey, a Republican, obtained his West Virginia law license four days before filing to run for attorney general in January 2012. He defeated longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw in the November election, and took office Jan. 14.

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


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