Joyce also recommended that Morrisey's office limit the number of private lawyers on a "pre-approved list" who would represent the state on cases that require a specific expertise. Joyce said future West Virginia attorneys general could misuse the list to circumvent the formal bidding process for hiring outside lawyers.
"For example, a future attorney general might develop a pre-approved list of private lawyers to represent the state in any matter involving consumer protection laws," Joyce wrote. "The scope of potential litigation falling within this area of law is extraordinarily broad and would provide wide discretion to choose a firm based on factors other than expertise or value."
The American Tort Reform Association has cited West Virginia as a "judicial hellhole" because the group believes the state has a legal system that penalizes businesses and hurts West Virginia's economy. The group's members include the American Medical Association and numerous tobacco, energy, insurance and drug companies.
Joyce did not say whether Morrisey's hiring changes would prompt the tort reform group to remove the "judicial hellhole" label. But Joyce praised Morrisey for supporting other legislative reforms -- such as returning lawsuit settlement monies to the state's general revenue account.
"During the short period of time in which you have served as attorney general," Joyce wrote to Morrisey, "West Virginia has made significant progress in the matter in which the state conducts its civil litigation."
The national tort reform group ranks California as the No. 1 "judicial hellhole." The organization advocates for legal system changes that would limit the amount of damages people can recover in lawsuits against corporations. West Virginia has made the group's "judicial hellhole" list every year since 2002, the year the list was created.
Morrisey's office is accepting comments on the outside lawyer hiring policy through May 31. The policy would take effect July 6.
"Most comments we have heard thus far have been very supportive of this new policy and the transparency it offers," said Beth Ryan, a spokeswoman for Morrisey's office. "Our desire is to ensure this process is open and efficient and does not unduly burden any agency."
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.