CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's staff no longer has the final say over his office's lawsuit against an Ohio drug company that his wife lobbies for in Washington, D.C.
Two other state agencies -- the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety -- recently signed on as plaintiffs in the attorney general's lawsuit against Cardinal Health, the nation's second-largest drug distributor.
Outside lawyers handling the case will now report to DHHR Commissioner Karen Bowling and Military Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joe Thornton, and their agencies' attorneys.
"[The] DHHR will be a party to any settlement or judgment awards, and will thus be in a position to direct funds as it deems important to combat substance abuse," said DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler.
The lawsuit -- filed by then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office in 2012 -- alleges that Cardinal Health helped fuel Southern West Virginia's problem with prescription drug abuse by shipping excessive numbers of pain pills to the region.
"The obtainment of injunctive relief is in [the] DHHR's interest to help prevent future illicit distribution of prescription pills," Adler said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office asked the two state agencies to join the Cardinal Health lawsuit, as well as another lawsuit against other drug companies. As plaintiffs, the agency chiefs will have the final say on potential settlements and decisions affecting both cases.
In July, Morrisey announced that he had stepped aside from the Cardinal Health lawsuit, after the Gazette revealed that the pain-pill distributor contributed $2,500 to Morrisey's inauguration, and that Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, lobbied for Cardinal Health.
The Dublin, Ohio-based drug company paid Henry's lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel, $400,000 in 2012, and another $210,000 between January and June 30 last year, according to lobbying disclosure forms. Since 2001, Cardinal Health has paid $3.7 million to lobbying firms that Henry has worked for or owned.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Health executives donated $4,000 to Morrisey's campaign in 2012, $3,000 of which came after McGraw's office filed suit against the company. A Cardinal vice president also contributed $1,000 to Morrisey's campaign in December 2012, a month after Morrisey defeated McGraw. Morrisey is holding post-election fundraisers to help retire his debt.
Morrisey did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Since July, Morrisey repeatedly has said he stepped aside from the Cardinal lawsuit when he took office a year ago. However, the Gazette has reported that Morrisey held a meeting with Cardinal Health executives last May and fielded correspondence about the case in late June.
The meeting didn't include the Attorney General's Office's outside counsel -- Charleston lawyer Jim Cagle -- who was hired by the office to represent the state in the Cardinal Health lawsuit.
In October, Morrisey would not answer questions about his meeting with Cardinal Health executives and the company's lawyer.
Since then, he has reiterated that he recused himself from the Cardinal lawsuit in January 2013.
At a December "town hall" meeting in Martinsburg, Morgan County USA reporter Russell Mokhiber asked Morrisey when he stepped aside from the Cardinal Health lawsuit.
Morrisey responded: "Right. So I said I have not been involved in that case from the beginning of the year."