The state Attorney General is elected to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for the state and has enormous power to bring the state’s resources to bear against those who violate the law. However, the power of the AG’s office can also be misused to pursue the AG’s own activist agenda and deputize personal injury lawyers to chase lawsuits on behalf of the state.
Often referred to as regulation through litigation, some AGs will bring lawsuits with the intention of creating public policy that they were not elected to make and that is shaped by their personal agenda.
Of equal concern is the hiring of a private personal injury lawyers on a contingency fee basis to pursue lawsuits on behalf of the state. In these arrangements a personal injury lawyer has the weight of the state behind him and is acting as an unelected AG for the state. They are usually paid a generous cut of any lawsuit award.
Why it Matters
Regulation through litigation is a dangerous trend that allows an individual AG to bypass the legislative process and the will of the people and advance his or her own political agenda. If an AG decides to use lawsuits to make law there are no checks and balances and there is very little that can be done to stop them.
In addition to using the office for their own political gain, state AGs often team up with outside counsel on a contingency fee basis. When private attorneys enter a lawsuit brought by a public entity, there are no longer assurances that the suit will proceed with the intentions of the public in mind, rather than the paycheck of the private attorneys. When the private attorney is paid his cut of the award it is not unusual for that money to be generously distributed among the campaigns of elected officials, including the attorney general, who can help ensure a steady stream of lawsuit business.
Stop the Abuse
As taxpayers, we have the right to know how our tax dollars are being spent. As voters, we deserve to know who is doing the work we elected our attorney general to do. The office of the attorney general should be transparent and held accountable for every dollar spent. When using outside counsel, a firm should be selected through competitive bidding and all fees and expenses should be privy to review from the legislature.
The American Tort Reform Association has developed a Transparency Code, a voluntary set of guidelines meant to ensure taxpayers they are getting the best value for their tax dollars. The more transparent the actions of the attorney general, the more confident we can be that