AG Candidate Hurst’s Response to Questionnaire Promises Transparency in Office
The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) today applauded Mississippi attorney general candidate Mike Hurst for pledging to uphold transparency in private attorney contracts if elected.
With a New York Times exposé last December calling it a “flourishing industry,” many state attorneys general are increasingly outsourcing potentially lucrative litigation work to private-sector personal injury lawyers who also happen to be big campaign contributors. These contributors are often rewarded with no-bid contracts with little transparency or accountability to taxpayers. This troubling national trend has been proactively addressed legislatively in 22 states.
But even in states that have enacted transparency reforms, some state AGs continue to make questionable arrangements with their political patrons among the plaintiffs’ bar (see Louisiana AG James “Buddy” Caldwell and his notorious “Buddy System”). So ATRA sends to all state AG candidates its Attorney General Transparency Questionnaire, seeking to learn candidates’ positions on the good-government principles of transparency and accountability in contracting for outside counsel.
In his response to the questionnaire, Hurst has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from private-sector attorneys or firms who seek to represent the state as outside counsel. He also agreed to support some version of the transparency model legislation supported by ATRA.
“Leading state attorneys general have supported reform legislation that, while recognizing their need for discretion and independence in enforcing the law, assures the public interest is not compromised by those with personal interests in the outcome of litigation,” observed ATRA President, Tiger Joyce.
“Since Mississippi is not immune to the pay-to-play corruption that can result from the increased use of contingency fee attorneys without oversight,” Joyce continued, “ATRA and its members appreciate Mr. Hurst’s pledge to ensure transparency and accountability. More attorneys general and candidates for the office should do the same.”
Though ATRA also sent a copy of its questionnaire to incumbent Attorney General Jim Hood, Hood has yet to respond.
ATRA’s Attorney General Transparency Questionnaire addresses the need for transparency and accountability in state hiring of outside counsel. By signing on to it, candidates pledge, if elected, to uphold five principles:
A. DISCLOSURE: All contracts with vendors, including outside counsel, who provide services to the state or perform legal work in the name of the state, should be posted on the Internet for public inspection.
B. VALUE: In every instance, the attorney general should seek to provide the highest quality services at the best value to state citizens when contracting with outside counsel. Unless an extraordinary situation requires assistance from a specific legal expert with technical or scientific experience not generally available, every effort should be made to competitively bid contracts for outside counsel.
C. OVERSIGHT: Given that contingent fee-based contracts are often used when attorneys general are pursuing litigation that potentially has a significant public policy or regulatory impact, such contracts should be subject to review by the Legislature.
D. REPORTING: Outside counsel providing services to the attorney general on behalf of a state’s citizens and taxpayers on a contingent fee basis shall be required to disclose detailed information on the hours worked, services performed, and fees received from the state, as long as this reporting does not undermine the attorney-client privilege.
E. ACCOUNTABILITY: All monies recovered by the attorney general in excess of $250,000 as a result of lawsuits won or settled by the state should be deposited in the state treasury for appropriation by the legislature unless a settlement with the attorney general’s office stipulates that the funds shall be allocated to a specific entity. At no time, shall an attorney general enter into a settlement that allows the office of the attorney general to disseminate funds at its discretion.