House Targets Attorney General

CHARLESTON (AP) – A legislative committee has cleared stiffer conflict-of-interest standards for West Virginia’s attorney general, who called the action politically motivated.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 in favor of a bill that would prohibit the attorney general from overseeing cases involving any company that donated money to his election campaign or from which the attorney general or his immediate family currently or previously benefited.

“Let’s not forget the AG is the top lawyer for the State of West Virginia,” said Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson. “He or she should be held to the highest standards.”

The bill was introduced after it was revealed that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey had ties to two pharmaceutical companies his office was suing. The case dealt with claims arising from prescription pill profits the companies made in West Virginia.

Morrisey recused himself and two other state agencies are now overseeing the case that was brought by Morrisey’s predecessor.

A spokeswoman for Morrisey, a Republican, called the bill “partisan politics” by House Democrats. She said lawmakers, the governor, members of the Board of Public Works and members of the judiciary should be held to the same standard.

“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,” office spokeswoman Beth Gorczyca Ryan said.

The bill heads to the House floor next. The Senate hasn’t considered it yet.

The bill also would limit the attorney general’s ability to file court briefs if they don’t reflect sentiments of the agencies or people he represents. Morrisey is the first Republican attorney general in 80 years, and serves alongside a Democrat Legislature and five Democrat constitutional officers.

His briefs have advocated causes backed by Republicans, including gun ownership rights, and opposed those backed by Democrats, including federal environmental regulations affecting the coal industry and the Affordable Care Act.

Morrisey has called for widespread auditing of the Legislature, agencies and elected offices to find fraud and wasteful spending. He has made a case by highlighting a Department of Agriculture audit that detailed problems in a loan program and questionable expenses from former Democrat agriculture commissioner Gus Douglass.