AGs From 36 States Say Proposed WV Ethics Act ‘Unprecedented' - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Attorneys General From 36 States Say Proposed WV Ethics Act ‘Unprecedented’

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The proposed Attorney General Ethics Act in West Virginia has gotten the attention of the National Association of Attorneys General and a bipartisan group of attorneys representing 36 states and territories.

The group signed on to a letter that was mailed to West Virginia lawmakers expressing their concerns with House Bill 4490, also known as the Attorney General Ethics Act.

The measure passed the House of Delegates, and has been stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee since Feb. 25.

The letter calls the proposal unprecedented in the restrictions it would place on West Virginia's attorney general, and because the letter garnered 36 signatures, the position has become national policy for the National Association of Attorneys General.

The letter specifically points out the proposal that would require the attorney general to withdraw from any matter in which the office holder or member of his or her immediate family received economic compensation and appoint outside counsel to handle the case.

"We are not aware of any statute that imposes such a broadly sweeping prohibition on an attorney general's office — at the state or federal levels," the attorneys general wrote. "Nor are we aware of any state's high court — which traditionally regulates the practice of law — having imposed such a principle of disqualification either through rules of practice or judicial opinion.

"The absence of such a prohibition is unsurprising, as it would plainly discourage experienced attorneys from seeking the office of attorney general."

The group of attorneys general also expressed concern about language that would prohibit the entire attorney general's office from ever representing a state agency, official or political subdivision if the attorney general asserts a legal position that is contrary to the legal opinion ever taken by a state agency, official or political subdivision the office represents.

"It is well-recognized across the country that a state attorney general is uniquely permitted to represent state agencies, officials and subdivisions with conflicting viewpoints — even in the same litigation," the letter states. "As many courts have explained, this dual representation must be permitted because of the ‘uniqueness of the attorney general's office and its responsibility as the constitutional legal officer of the state to represent various and sometimes conflicting interests of numerous government agencies."

The letter was signed by attorneys general representing the states and territories of: Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. The Attorney General of Guam is a nonpartisan office, but 14 of the signatures are from Democrats and 21 are from Republicans.