State Attorneys General
Some state attorneys general have become increasingly overreaching in recent years, initiating crusades against one industry after another, and often working in tandem with personal injury lawyers “deputized” to file lawsuits on behalf of state government.
An Expanding, Politicized Role
Certain state attorneys general are operating in a competitive and politically charged environment, where “activism” is the norm and generating media headlines as a “crusader” is an ever-present goal. Much like activist judges whose decisions create new laws and expand lawsuit rules, some attorneys general have been aggressively investigating and filing lawsuits in areas where they previously had not been involved or which traditionally fell within the province of federal authority.
This trend accelerated after the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990’s generated significant state revenue as well as huge profits for certain plaintiffs’ lawyers. Other major state attorney general initiatives have included lawsuits against manufacturers, utilities, software companies and financial services, among others.
Financial Relationships, Ethics Questioned
Overreaching attorneys general often hire outside plaintiffs’ attorneys to represent their states on a contingency-fee basis, as they work together to find new lawsuit targets and novel legal approaches.
Some plaintiffs’ attorneys hired by attorneys general have been found to be major campaign contributors to the campaigns of the attorneys general. As plaintiffs’ lawyers make huge personal profits from successful lawsuits, money may be funneled back into attorney general election campaigns. These alliances raise significant concerns about conflict of interest, favoritism, use of a public entity for personal gain, and fairness in prosecutions.
Several states have passed or are considering “private attorney retention sunshine” model legislation to ensure that the terms of the business relationships between state attorneys general and private lawyers hired to work with them are open and available to public scrutiny.