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Study criticizes 'pay-to-play' AG practices

NOTE: The Mississippi Business Journal is following up with ATRA and will be interviewing Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood for a response. Visit msbusiness.com next week for more information.

Actions Range from Seemingly “Pay-to-Play” to Good-Government Practices

WASHINGTON — The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) has released a study documenting inappropriate uses of contracts between certain state attorneys general and political campaign contributors who stand to make millions by being selected to litigate cases on behalf of state governments.

The report spotlights Mississippi as well as Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York and West Virginia, with varying public records of attorney general and plaintiff lawyer partnerships, ranging from outright abuse to apparent impropriety to cause for concern.

Some state attorneys general, in contrast, operate at the highest ethical standards, according to the report’s research by ATRA’s AG Agenda Watch project.

The study, entitled Beyond Reproach? Fostering Integrity and Public Trust in the Offices of State Attorneys General, examines ethical, fairness and conflict issues related to state attorneys general hiring private attorneys.

It reports the findings of campaign finance research linking large donations by plaintiffs’ firms and lawyers to some attorneys general who subsequently handed out state contracts potentially worth millions of dollars in fees to those same lawyers.

“Some members of the plaintiffs’ bar have exploited their relationships with some attorneys general. They bankroll attorneys general campaigns, which not coincidentally leads to highly lucrative state contracts that are frequently awarded without any public disclosure,” observed ATRA President Sherman Joyce.

“At the top of the ‘to-do’ list for attorneys general should be setting policies that engender stronger public confidence in the office of the attorney general – particularly in those special circumstances when the hiring of private lawyers to litigate on behalf of the state is justified. In those cases it should be done on a competitive, transparent, accountable and value-driven basis,” said Jerry Kilgore, the former Attorney General of Virginia and an adviser to ATRA.

In addition to documenting abuse, Beyond Reproach? also points to positive examples where reforms, policies or practices successfully govern outside counsel contracts to prevent abuse.

The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) recently called attention to private attorney hiring and included the topic in an orientation session for new attorneys general at its winter meeting from Nov. 29 – Dec. 2 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The American Tort Reform Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation. Its members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level.

Source: PR Newswire

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