Morrisey releases ethics reform package

WHEELING – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent President Barack Obama a letter urging him to consider the Mountain State’s concerns about federal overreach as Obama seeks to replace outgoing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.

“We have grave concerns about the direction of the EPA, and we have provided a letter to the president outlining those concerns,” Morrisey said. “We hope that we can work with the Obama administration to protect West Virginia’s sovereign and legal interests and protect jobs in our state.”

In his letter, Morrisey asks Obama to carefully consider the track record of his next EPA administrator, and to take into account the interests of “all Americans, including the people within West Virginia.”

“Moreover, I urge you not to select a person who would aggressively engage in a war against coal and extractive industries, as recent reports suggest is your intent,” Morrisey wrote. “We both surely can agree that the resources currently being spent to unsuccessfully defend the EPA’s overreach can be better spent elsewhere.”

Morrisey’s letter tells Obama there is a bipartisan effort among West Virginia’s leaders to defend the state’s energy industry against “regulatory encroachment” in court, but that this sentiment wasn’t shared by his predecessor, former Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

“My predecessor passed on opportunities to participate in litigation to protect West Virginia’s energy interests, but I intend to be much more aggressive in defending West Virginia against EPA overreach,” Morrisey states, vowing to review each lawsuit against the EPA brought by state attorneys general across the nation to determine which ones West Virginia should join.

Morrisey on Monday also announced his “Comprehensive Ethics Plan” for changing policies and procedures in his office, and he added he will suggest to state lawmakers they implement these same ideas for all West Virginia government offices.

Among his proposals, Morrisey will ask the following from state lawmakers:

The establishment of a “substantive, competitive” bidding process for outside counsel appointments;

A resolution for a constitutional amendment to limit the attorney general to two consecutive terms in office; and

A prohibition on public advertising by an elected official during an election year, including a ban on the purchase of “trinkets” – small promotional items such as pens and magnets” – that bear the name or likeness of the elected official.

McGraw often came under fire for his use of outside attorneys to do work for his office, and for putting his name or photo on promotional items from the office.

“We meant what we said when we said we would run this office in an ethical manner,” he said. “I think we have gone further than any state official has to dismantle incumbent self-protection tools. … People were very unhappy about the abuse of taxpayer dollars, and we wanted to put an end to it.”

The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, when fully staffed, has about 100 attorneys, according to Morrisey. He noted he is presently hiring attorneys to fill jobs vacated following McGraw’s defeat in the November general election.

Morrisey said he has yet to hire any outside attorneys for the office during his first month in office, and he noted he probably won’t unless there is a specific need for attorneys who specialize in a particular type of case law.

“We’re clearly emphasizing the use of internal counsel,” he said. “In the instances where some complex specialization is required, we will consider relying on outside legal experts. But our policy is going to be, ‘Let’s use internal counsel first.'”

Morrisey hopes state legislators will be receptive to his suggestions.

“I have talked to members about their ideas, and I think a number of people are interested in pursuing them,” he said. “They shouldn’t be controversial. We’re just trying to save taxpayer money when we have a budget shortfall.”