Morrisey should quit stalling on document request

November 10, 2018

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

The West Virginia race between Joe Manchin and Patrick Morrisey for the U.S. Senate was decided in Tuesday’s election, with the Democratic incumbent Manchin prevailing.

But there remains some unfinished business having to do with Morrisey that should have been completed before voters cast their ballots this week but wasn’t. But the questions raised prior to the election about the Republican’s communications with pharmaceutical companies warrant an answer; after all, Morrisey remains the state’s attorney general and the public deserves to know whether he has acted in the best interests of the people he serves.

The situation involves a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in October 2017 for a large number of documents, including Morrisey’s communications with several opioid manufacturers and distributors the state had sued. Morrisey’s connections with opioid manufacturers have been raised as an issue ever since Morrisey took office because of his previous work lobbying congressional lawmakers for what is now known as the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, whose members include Cardinal Health, the largest drug supplier in West Virginia, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In addition, his wife, Denise Henry Morrisey, lobbied congressional lawmakers for Cardinal Health directly, specifically on opioid issues.

In 2012 under Morrisey’s predecessor, the state filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Health, alleging the company contributed to West Virginia’s opioid epidemic. Morrisey inherited the lawsuit, but stepped aside from the case in July 2013. The state Lawyer Disciplinary Board investigated an ethics complaint filed against Morrisey. The board concluded he had some involvement in the case, but never took part in a substantive way and dismissed the case.

Cardinal Health paid $20 million to the state in January 2017 to settle the case — a sum that some have criticized as not sufficient compensation for all the damage caused by the opioid epidemic.

However, Morrisey’s office has been slow to comply with the request for documents, and a judge has admonished the attorney general as a result.

Last month, the DSCC sued Morrisey, and Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster sided with the committee, calling out the attorney general for a “blatant disregard” of FOIA laws. Morrisey was ordered to either release the documents sought by the DSCC or provide an index logging what documents were withheld and why.

Morrisey’s office still had not complied as of Monday, and asked for a 72-hour delay, obviously a timeline that would come after Tuesday’s voting. The judge refused the request and gave Morrisey’s office until 5 p.m. that day. The order was not met.

Morrisey’s office accused the DSCC of “a political hit on Election Day” for pursuing the documents, a lame argument at best. Morrisey had a year to comply with the FOIA request. And, whether Morrisey likes it or not, the Democratic committee has the same rights as any other group or individuals to request documents that are believed to be public. Are FOIA laws reserved just for Republicans?

Webster, in her Monday order for release of the documents, wrote “FOIA is a legislative determination that the public interest is served by prompt disclosure. There is little public interest in hiding whether the AG was settling claims of WV counties and cities without their consent or knowledge.”

That public interest has not gone away with Tuesday’s election. The documents remain as one gauge for the citizens to know how their attorney general has performed his job. The judge in this case should continue to compel the release of the pertinent documents, and the attorney general should comply. His actions already have raised suspicions, and further delay will only add to them.

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