CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Each time Patrick Morrisey has announced a new goal for his administration, from his statewide "Jobs Summit" tour to his plans to take on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for what he calls "federal overreach," critics have wondered whether the newly elected attorney general has the authority to make good on those promises.
Naturally, Morrisey has defended his plans. He claims the state constitution and state law have granted his office wide, albeit rarely used, authority.
And he's probably correct.
West Virginia University law professor Bob Bastress said the state constitution is quite vague on the role of the attorney general.
"This is true of all the constitutional officers, other than the governor. Their duties are all pretty much as prescribed by the Legislature," Bastress said.
He said state law also gives the attorney general a wide range of powers and authority. The court system also has tried to define the attorney general's duties, Bastress said, but that has been complicated.
"Trying to define them has eluded the courts so far," he said.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that the attorney general is the "premiere warrior" for the state but must act in a traditional attorney/client relationship when representing a state agency.
The way Morrisey sees it, there are five basic jobs of the attorney general. Those include writing legal opinions on issues affecting West Virginia, representing the state and state agencies in lawsuits, investigating certain violations of state law, drafting legislation at the request of state agencies, and suggesting new bills to legislators.
"There's a lot of focus on what the attorney general can do. The attorney general, by definition, is going to be involved in all legal issues within a state," he said.
Morrisey said his Jobs Summit tour, intended to improve the state's business climate and reduce unemployment, falls within several of those powers.
He said if a state agency espouses a policy that hurts the state's economy, it would be within the attorney general's rights to give advice on the policy.