Pass New Law On State Funds

West Virginia Attorney General-elect Patrick Morrisey has an agenda that should restore integrity to the office – and potentially millions of dollars to the state treasury. But on that issue, legislators should eliminate the attorney general’s discretionary power.

They should have done that years ago, of course. But for one reason or another, lawmakers were reluctant to do the right thing regarding longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

McGraw lost the Tuesday election to Morrisey, in part because many voters were upset he had run the attorney general’s office as a sort of personal kingdom.

When outside legal counsel was needed, McGraw hired attorneys without seeking bids. In some cases, lawyers who had contributed to McGraw’s re-election campaigns were employed. A few of them reaped enormous rewards, some in excess of $1 million, in lawsuit settlements on behalf of the state.

Morrisey already has said that practice will come to an end under his administration. When outside attorneys are needed, they will be sought through competitive bidding, he has pledged.

But not all the money gained by the state in lawsuits filed by the attorney general’s office went to outside counsel. McGraw’s office has retained millions of dollars of it, doling it out for purposes judged worthy by the attorney general.

That money should have been paid straight into the state treasury. The Legislature, not the attorney general, is vested with the power of appropriating state funds. But lawmakers refused to curb McGraw.

Morrisey has pledged that in such situations, he will pay lawsuit settlement money into the state treasury. But he will not be the attorney general forever. Legislators should make the practice mandatory.