CHARLES TOWN – A bill that would require the state’s attorney general to recuse himself in the event of a real or perceived conflict of interest was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Monday after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey declined a request to attend a hearing on the matter.
[cleeng_content id="858155469" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The committee voted 13-7 to recommend passage of a bill that would require the attorney general to appoint outside counsel if the party in a lawsuit given a campaign contribution or employed the attorney general or a relative.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, one of the bills co-sponsors, said that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was asked to attend the committee’s hearing but refused, something he said was unheard of.
“That’s extraordinary,” Skinner said. “If you ask somebody to come on a bill that relates to their office, they come.”
Skinner suggested Morrisey may have wanted to avoid questions about “his conflicts.” Morrisey has been criticized by Democrats for accepting contributions from Cardinal Health, a health care company that his predecessor Darrell McGraw had filed suit against in 2012. Morrisey’s wife is a lobbyist that has been employed by Cardinal Health for 15 years, according to OpenSecrets.
According to The Charleston Gazette, Morrisey met with Cardinal after recusing himself from the case.
Beth Ryan, Morrisey’s communications director, called the bill in an email “nothing but partisan politics” since it applied conflict of interest standards only to the attorney general, and not to other state officials.
Ryan said the bill would cost the state “millions of dollars in outside counsel costs.”
“Private lawyers will enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense and the attorney general’s office’s new competitive bidding policy for hiring outside counsel – which has already saved the state more than $1.5 million in legal fees – would be scrapped,” Ryan wrote.
The bill will now head to the House floor.