CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has quietly adopted a new office policy that allows him to self-report possible conflicts of interest to his chief deputy, who has the power to decide whether Morrisey should step aside from a case.
The attorney general's "conflict-of-interest policy" follows Sunday Gazette-Mail reports that Morrisey accepted post-election campaign contributions from Cardinal Health, a company his office is suing. Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, also lobbies for Cardinal Health in Washington, D.C.
The new policy requires Morrisey to report a conflict if he believes he "might" have one, or if a "reasonable person" perceives he has a conflict of interest. The ethics policy was "published" and made available to office employees on Jan. 30, according to Morrisey's lawyers.
Democrats in the House of Delegates were quick to criticize Morrisey's policy last week, saying it was inadequate. House members plan to introduce a bill next week that sets conflict-of-interest rules for the Attorney General's Office.
"We want objective standards, not subjective standards," said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton. "We don't believe it should be left up to the discretion of the attorney general."
At the beginning of this year, Morrisey implied that his office already had a conflict-of-interest policy on the books. Morrisey took office in 2012 after defeating former attorney general Darrell McGraw.
"There was not even a conflict review process in place when I entered the office," Morrisey told reporters at the AP Legislative Lookahead in South Charleston on Jan. 6. "And so we initiated that in order to try to address issues like this [the Cardinal Health situation]. This has been a good example."
Morrisey's office acknowledged last week that the policy wasn't written until Jan. 14, five days after the Gazette-Mail requested records about the measure under the state Freedom of Information Act, and two days before Morrisey released a copy of the new policy to the newspaper.
Last week, Morrisey would not say whether he has circulated the new policy to office staffers. His office would only say it was "available to all employees." Morrisey did not announce the new policy in a press release, as he has done with past office policy changes.
The conflict-of-interest policy also directs office employees to report "real or perceived" conflicts to division directors. It's up to Morrisey to take "whatever steps deemed necessary to alleviate any such conflict."
The policy also directs employees not to serve "special interests."
"All attorneys and other employees are expected to use good judgment, to adhere to high ethical standards, and to act in such a manner to avoid any actual or potential conflict of interest," the policy states.
In a recent letter to the Gazette-Mail, Deputy Attorney General J. Robert Leslie said Morrisey requested the conflict-of-interest policy last summer. The policy began to be implemented last year, but wasn't finalized until Jan. 14, Leslie said.
At a Feb. 7, 2013, meeting, Morrisey "instructed all Attorney General's Office employees to maintain the highest ethical and professional standards," Leslie said in the letter.
"From the first day in office, this administration sought to ensure that employees of the office operated in accordance with the West Virginia rules of professional conduct, which govern ethical practices of all attorneys in West Virginia," Leslie wrote to the newspaper.