Since the onset of the tobacco litigation in the late 1990's when state attorneys general and private attorneys teamed up to sue the tobacco industry, back-door partnerships have become increasingly more common between power-yielding state AGs and profit-rather-than-citizen-motivated private attorneys. The Manhattan Institute's new Trial Lawyers Inc. report acutely zeros in on the potential for improper relationships and perceptively highlights the likely prime offenders, while fairly noting that not all attorneys general fall under this category.
To lessen at least the appearance of impropriety and to shed light on these lucrative and possibly nepotistic contracts, the American Legislative Exchange Council has developed its model Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, which is referenced in the Report. This model legislation owes its popularity to its use of the good government principles of transparency, disclosure and oversight to safeguard these large-dollar contracts against improper quid pro quo.
2011 saw the introduction of sunshine legislation in ten states, with the end of the year bringing the total number of states with similar laws on the books to ten. With the increase in AG-private-attorney litigation--particularly over state pension funds,-- state legislators and the public should be ever more interested in keeping an eye on the relations between state attorneys general and their campaign-donating attorney friends to protect state awards from excessively high legal fees. 2012 is shaping up to be another year during which state legislatures around the country will look to transparency to promote good governance and safeguard taxpayer dollars.