McGraw staffer defends system
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his staff discovered "many areas of serious concern" upon taking office last month.
He said the Attorney General's Office lacked a centralized file management system and a conflict-of-interest reporting system for attorneys. Some offices did not have working voicemail accounts, and many employees had not received a personnel review for years.
"At present, there is no cohesive filing system to allow our employees to quickly identify and access needed documents. As a result, finding even the simplest of documents can often be a time-consuming process," he said.
He said the centralized system is essential for a functioning law office and is needed to help lawyers manage deadlines, conflicts of interest and billable hours.
On Wednesday's "Talkline," Morrisey told Hoppy Kercheval he has asked the office's attorneys to provide summaries of cases they are working on.
"It's as if there were 30 or 40 solo practitioners working in the office of the attorney general," he said on the radio program. "That's not how you run a law firm."
Morrisey also said the office previously relied on individual attorneys to manually report conflicts of interests. He said a centralized, computerized system is needed to operate in an "ethical and transparent manner."
Such a system is usually a law firm's first line of defense in avoiding legal malpractice, he said.
"Without a working conflicts check system, you can't effectively identify and avoid potential conflict-of-interest problems," he said.
He said he has spent his first weeks in office trying to fix those problems, although he said some of the solutions may take months and possibly as much as a year.
Fran Hughes, who served as deputy attorney general under Darrell McGraw's administration, said the office operated successfully for years without the systems Morrisey views as necessities.
Hughes said she does not criticize Morrisey's desire to upgrade the office's systems but McGraw's administration never received money for that from the Legislature.
Just five licensed copies of a centralized docket management system could cost between $30,000 and $50,000, she said.
"We weren't given the money to purchase such a system, but we never lost documents," she said.
She said McGraw's team used a decidedly low-tech system, staying in constant contact with staffers who updated their superiors on the progress of their cases.
"We were able to know what cases there were, what needed to be done. I know that's not the most technological, sophisticated way, but sometimes the good ol' fashioned way works," she said. "We never lost a document, so we were doing something right."
Hughes said administrators did rely on attorneys to report any personal conflicts of interest but kept track of which attorneys were assigned to cases.
"If the attorney assigned to defend an agency had worked on the other side of the issue, we would create a Chinese wall," she said, adding she's not sure the office needs an automated system to manage conflicts.
Hughes also said the problems Morrisey said he inherited should not have come as a surprise because Morrisey's staff had more than two months — from the November election to last month's inauguration day — to get their ducks in a row.
"These are all things Mr. Morrisey knew," she said. "We have done everything to make it a smooth transition."
Hughes said she met with Morrisey staffers the day after the November election to begin the transition. She said she talked about pending cases, the office's budget process and key responsibilities of the attorney general and also made employees available to speak with Morrisey.
She said McGraw's office also prepared a budget for the incoming attorney general to submit to the Legislature and left enough money from McGraw's various consumer protection suits to run the office for three years.
"It's time for him to turn his attention away from campaigning and attacking former Attorney General Darrell McGraw and his office," Hughes said. "It's time for him to build his own legacy."