House bill targets Morrisey's highest-paid lawyer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey accused Democrats in the House of Delegates of "blatant hostility" Friday, after they introduced a bill that targets the highest-paid lawyer in Morrisey's office because he can't practice in a West Virginia courtroom.
The legislation (HB2788) requires that state government attorneys who make more than $100,000 have a license to practice law in West Virginia when they're hired.
Elbert Lin, who was initially hired as Morrisey's solicitor general last month, has practiced law in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, but isn't expected to receive his West Virginia law license for several months. Lin makes $132,000 a year.
"This is petty partisan politics at its worst and shows what certain delegates' priorities are," Morrisey said Friday.
Delegate Doug Reynolds, the bill's lead sponsor, said lawyers hired by the state "shouldn't go on the state payroll until they can hit the ground running."
"The people we hire for a job, they need to be able to do the job from day one," said Reynolds, D-Wayne.
He said the bill wouldn't affect just Lin.
"It affects all state agencies," said Reynolds. "We didn't do this just for the attorney general's office."
After Lin was on the job for one day last month, Morrisey quietly changed his job title from solicitor general to "senior assistant to the attorney general."
Without a West Virginia law license, Lin can't sign legal pleadings or appear in court on the state's behalf. Even so, Morrisey's office continues to pay Lin $132,000.
Morrisey has ordered Lin not to speak to the media.
"When the West Virginia Legislature should be dedicating its time on issues such as economic development and education reform, these delegates have introduced a bill that attempts to stop state offices and agencies, including the attorney general's office from hiring talented and well-qualified lawyers and professionals who will help our state save millions of dollars," Morrisey said.
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 of Law and Public Policy Studies, an organization of conservatives and libertarians.
"How many other lawyers in the state have clerked for a Supreme Court justice?" Morrisey said Friday. "Lin is making one-third of his previous salary in the private sector and moving his family to our state."
Reynolds, a Huntington lawyer, said he wasn't calling Lin's legal credentials into question.
"But I do believe there are many very qualified lawyers in the state of West Virginia who could do that job and who would have done a good job for the attorney general," he said.
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 process takes three to five months, so it would likely be sometime this summer when Lin resumes his job as solicitor general.
Lin will head Morrisey'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.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.