CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A House of Delegates committee advanced legislation Monday night that targets West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and sets stiffer ethics rules for his office.
The legislation (HB4490) bars the attorney general from overseeing lawsuits filed by his office against companies or individuals who contribute to his election campaign.
"The attorney general is the legal representative for the state of West Virginia and therefore must be the gold standard in providing legal services in a manner that preserves the public trust in our judicial system," said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton. "This bill accomplishes that goal."
Under the bill, the attorney general also would have to step aside from a case, if he or an immediate family member received financial compensation or ever worked for the defendant. If a conflict exists, an outside lawyer would be appointed to oversee the case for the attorney general's office.
"The bill clarifies what a conflict of interest is," said Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill Monday night by a 13-7 vote. The legislation next moves to the House floor.
Morrisey, a Republican, blasted House Democrats Monday night, accusing them of "partisan politics." His office said the bill would likely cost the state "millions of dollars" and "will be subject to constitutional challenges."
"This legislation is a dangerous and unprecedented experiment and shows just how out of touch the West Virginia Democrat House leadership is with the public," Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan said in a statement.
Ryan said the West Virginia governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and legislators "should be subject to the same conflict of interest standards."
"It is nothing but partisan politics when you draft a bill outlining a so-called 'conflict of interest policy' that only applies to one office in state government," she said.
Several weeks ago, Morrisey's office quietly approved its own conflict of interest policy, which allows the attorney general to self-report possible conflicts. Morrisey's chief deputy, Dan Greear, has the power to decide whether his boss should step aside from a case.
The new policy follows Charleston Gazette reports that Morrisey accepted post-election campaign contributions from Cardinal Health, a company his office is suing. Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, also is a longtime lobbyist for Cardinal Health in Washington, D.C.
House Democrats introduced the bill that targets Morrisey last week, saying his office ethics policy was "inadequate."