Morrisey asks for $1.85 million extra for attorney general budget
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorney General Patrick Morrisey asked state lawmakers Wednesday to approve $1.85 million in supplemental money that would be used to hire extra employees, and upgrade office computer and phone systems.
To offset the extra costs, Morrisey said he plans cut spending practices by his predecessor, Darrell McGraw. The computer upgrades also will help the office save money on paperwork and document storage fees, he said.
"It is my intent to identify budget offsets and monies to pay for every improvement and new dollar we are seeking," Morrisey told members of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday afternoon.
Morrisey, a Republican, submitted a $5.5 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, so the supplemental appropriations, if approved, would make up a quarter of the Attorney General Office's total budget. He's expected to have a difficult time selling his supplemental budget request to the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.
In making his case Wednesday, Morrisey called the office phone system "virtually inoperable."
The phone system manufacturer no longer provides maintenance, he said. Consumer Protection Division employees don't have voicemail. The phone system also doesn't link the attorney general's Martinsburg office to the main office at the state Capitol in Charleston.
A new phone system would cost about $260,000, Morrisey said.
Morrisey talked about the office's computer systems in even starker terms -- "antiquated, ineffective and putting the state at risk."
The office, he said, uses an outdated email system that's not compatible with Microsoft Outlook -- the system most state agencies use.
"On a personal level, my email has been broken every other day, if not every day," Morrisey told lawmakers.
The Attorney General's Office also has no computer system to store documents electronically, he said. Most divisions store paper records, which raises "serious legal ethics and security concerns and hampers considerably the office's aim to increase the efficiency and quality of legal representation for the state," Morrisey said.
The computer software and hardware upgrades would cost $1.06 million.
"This is not the Cadillac of plans," he said. "These are necessities."
Morrisey also proposed hiring seven additional workers at a cost of $504,765.
His office hopes to hire a chief technology officer, an assistant comptroller, information technology workers, an accounts receivable clerk and two employees to scan documents.
Morrisey said the extra employees were needed to "help further the office's constitutional mission, achieve greater transparency and operate in full compliance with state laws and regulations."
To offset the extra expenses, Morrisey said his office would not purchase trinkets -- pens, pillboxes, magnets -- emblazoned with his name, as McGraw had done for years. Morrisey said his name also wouldn't appear on education materials.
What's more, Morrisey said he wouldn't use state money to buy "broad-based advertising" for the Attorney General's Office during election years.
His office also plans to save money by hiring fewer outside lawyers. "The goal is to not use outside counsel, if there's in-house counsel that can do the work," he said.
Morrisey said he would establish a competitive bidding process to select outside lawyers -- only for complicated cases that require specialized legal skills.
"The Office of Attorney General is in dire need of a structural transformation," Morrisey said. "We need to ensure this office runs like a modern law firm."
Morrisey said his office now has 191 employees. He said he was conducting a "national search" to hire the "best and brightest lawyers" to come to West Virginia and work in his office.
He has already hired Elbert Lin, a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, at a salary of $132,000 -- even though Lin doesn't have a West Virginia law license, and won't be able to appear in court or sign legal pleadings in the state for months.
Twenty-seven employees have left the Attorney General's Office since he defeated McGraw in the November election, Morrisey said. He did not say how many people he has hired and how many new positions he has created since he took office on Jan. 14.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.