Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is taking aim at some Democrat delegates, who sponsored a bill introduced Friday that would prevent state agencies from hiring lawyers not licensed in West Virginia for positions making more than $100,000 a year.
While the legislation does not specifically mention Morrisey, who ousted longtime (Democrat) Attorney General Darrell McGraw in November’s election, it certainly does appear to be aimed at the new lawyer-in-chief.
House Bill 2788 would require an attorney employed by the State in a job paying more $100,000 or more a year “shall have a license to practice law in the state at the time of hire.”
Morrisey announced in January he would hire former U.S. Supreme Court clerk Elbert Lin as his “solicitor general,” an office that previously did not exist under Morrisey’s predecessor. Last month, Morrisey filed to change Lin’s job title to “senior assistant to the attorney general.”
The reason for the change? Lin, who is licensed to practice law in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, does not have a West Virginia law license and therefore cannot currently represent the state in court. Morrisey’s office has said Lin is seeking his West Virginia license and don’t expect any problems in the process. It will be a few months before everything is final.
In the meantime, Lin’s $132,000 salary has not changed.
The bill’s primary sponsor is Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, an attorney.
Ten other delegatesco-sponsored the bill: Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, David Walker, D-Clay, and Justin Marcum, D-Mingo.
Morrisey called out those lawmakers in a tersely-worded press release, sent out Friday afternoon.
“This is petty partisan politics at its worst and shows what certain delegates’ priorities are.
“This childish bill shows that some members of the House of Delegates are taking their lead directly from their peers in Congress by putting aside real issues of concern to focus on hyper-partisan bills. When the West Virginia Legislature should be dedicating its time on issues such as education reform and economic development, these delegates have introduced a bill that attempts to stop state offices and agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office, from hiring talented and well-qualified lawyers and professionals who will help our state save millions of dollars.”
Morrisey defended his new hire.
“West Virginia was able to score a major victory when this Office hired Elbert Lin. He has impeccable legal credentials as a former clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, a clerk for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, a partner at Wiley Rein, which is one of the premier law firms in the nation, and editor of the Yale Law Journal. How many other lawyers in the state have clerked for a Supreme Court justice? Significantly, Lin is making approximately one-third of his previous salary in the private sector and is moving his family to our state.
“Part of the reason West Virginia needs to attract such incredible legal talent is that we need to begin reducing the millions of dollars the state currently pays for outside counsel. With top-shelf advocates in-house, we can save millions of dollars on outside counsel fees and end the cronyism that has plagued our state for too long.
“It just goes to show what level a desperate politician will stoop to.”
The attorney general said the bill shows “blantant hostility” toward legal professionals who want to come to the Mountain State to practice. He said it also shows the delegates don’t know much about how lawyers are hired, or how the state bar works. He pointed out the American Bar Association recently adopted a model ehtics rule allowing lawyers to practice in a new state for up to a year while they pursue admission to the state bar.
Toward the bottom of the press release, Morrisey started personalizing his defense.
“Voters in Cabell County didn’t send Delegate Reynolds to the Capitol to draft legislation that wastes valuable time and has questionable constitutionality. Shame on Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, who preaches bipartisanship in Jefferson County yet acts like a liberal Democrat in Charleston. Jefferson County deserves better. Shame on Delegate Doug Skaff, a so-called bipartisan leader. West Virginians want their elected leaders to work for the betterment of the state, not to spend their time crafting unprecedented, arguable unconstitutional and blindly partisan bills. West Virginia deserves better and a more bipartisan approach to governing.”
Morrisey also took to his personal Twitter account (@MorriseyforAG, not to be confused with the official account @WestVirginiaAG).
Reynolds said the legislation does not only cover the attorney general’s office, but all state agencies. He said if someone is hired to do a job, they should be able to do that job on their first day of work.
“I stand by the bill. We’re talking about the hiring practices of very highly compensated employees. I think we ought to take a look at it,” he said. “If we were going to hire a patrolman, even if he’s a highly qualified patrolman, we would want to make sure he had his drivers license.”
Skaff said he joined the bill because numerous constituents have called him to complain about Morrisey’s hiring of Lin. He said he received two such phone calls on Friday, from people who didn’t even know about the bill.
“They didn’t understand while hundreds and thousands of West Virginians are out of work, we would be paying someone an extreme amount of money to practice law in our state who is not yet able to. With over 4000 lawyers who have passed the bar in our state, I would have liked to have seen him give that position to a West Virginian,” Skaff said.
“It’s not that i don’t think this person is not qualified. I’m sure he is. But the average West Virginian is who I look out for and when they bring it to my attention that they’re unhappy about somebody’s taxpayer’s dollars being spent on someone who will have to study for the next certain amount of months before he’s certified in West Virginia…I don’t think that’s right.”
Skaff insisted the bill was “nothing personal” against Morrisey, and said the bill’s other sponsors also joined because their constituents were upset about Lin’s hiring.
“There’s a lot of people out there, he doesn’t realize, he offended by this gesture,” Skaff said of Morrisey. “I’m all about bipartisanship and working together, but his campaign was ran on the premise of going against good ol’ boy politics, and one of the first major hires he did was go back to his good ol’ boy D.C. network and bring them to West Virginia.”
Skaff said he believes the legislation has a “decent shot” of making it through the House Judiciary committee to a floor vote.
Attempts to reach Lawrence were not immediately successful Friday night, but her comments will be added to this blog as soon as possible.