CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A national organization that ranks West Virginia as the second worst "judicial hellhole" in America is raving about Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
The American Tort Reform Association has praised Morrisey's plan to require private lawyers to bid on state legal work that's supervised by the Attorney General's Office. The proposed policy also limits the contingency fees that outside attorneys can collect. Morrisey is soliciting public comment on the policy.
"These actions are positive steps toward improving the reputation of West Virginia's civil justice system," said Sherman "Tiger" Joyce, president of the tort reform group, which targets states and cities for alleged anti-business legal climates.
At a news conference last week, Morrisey released a 279-page report chronicling his first 100 days in office. The attorney general gave himself a B-plus grade, citing the new outside counsel hiring policy as a significant accomplishment.
Morrisey, who defeated longtime West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw in the November election, sharply criticized McGraw's "no-bid" hiring of outside lawyers.
Joyce, whose group has frequently targeted McGraw, said the informal agreements led to private lawyers "receiving millions of dollars in fees" without adequate explanation of "how much time or effort was spent litigating the case." In the past, Joyce's group has accused McGraw of operating a "pay-for-play" system -- hiring outside lawyers who donated to McGraw's campaign.
"This practice led the public and the business community to question whether litigation brought by the state ... was driven by a private lawyer's interest in collecting lucrative fees, or fair, impartial application of the law," Joyce wrote in comments sent to Morrisey's office.
Joyce suggested two changes to Morrisey's new hiring policy.
Morrisey's policy would apply to contracts with outside lawyers hired after April 15. Joyce said Morrisey should disclose financials details and other information about contracts with outside lawyers hired before that date.