State attorneys general (AGs) are their state’s chief lawyer, tasked with representing state agencies in court, defending state laws, and giving legal advice to state officials. But in recent years, many AGs have taken on a role as self-serving politicians who neglect these duties and instead seek to expand their own power — from using their office to enrich themselves or their trial lawyer friends to filing lawsuits attacking political opponents or law-abiding businesses. These and other AG abuses are chronicled in the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s latest report, The Nation’s Worst State Attorneys General 2015, which names six of the worst offenders.
The worst state attorney general in CEI’s 2015 list is Pennsylvania’s Kathleen Kane, who was indicted by a county district attorney on August 6 with perjury, official oppression, obstruction of justice, and contempt of court, for illegally leaking grand jury material and then trying to cover up the leak. But that’s just the latest in a long list of ethical breaches.
In 2013, Kane secretly shut down an undercover sting that had caught several Philadelphia elected officials of her own party for accepting bribes. The case against them was so strong that the Philadelphia district attorney, himself a Democrat, indicted and obtained guilty pleas from several of them. Kane baselessly claimed that sting was motivated by racism, which, as Philly’s DA, who is African American, noted, was contradicted by documents in Kane’s own office. Kane also sabotaged the corruption investigation of a former state gaming official. She awarded lucrative no-bid contracts to campaign contributors and concealed them from the public, in violation of state law.
Kane also blatantly flouted her basic duty to represent the state in court. She refused to defend state laws, such as gun-rights measures that were challenged in court, that she personally opposed.
Rated the second worst attorney general is Mississippi’s Jim Hood, who has prosecuted businesses to benefit campaign contributors and has helped enrich corrupt trial lawyers.
Hood has a history of hiring outside lawyers to handle state lawsuits, in exchange for big payouts for the lawyers bringing them. In cases involving MCI and Microsoft, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that he violated state law by allowing trial lawyers to collect fees that belonged not to them, but to the state treasury. Some lawyers hired by Hood, like Dickie Scruggs and Joey Langston, later wound up in federal prison after being convicted in judicial bribery scandals. Scruggs pleaded guilty to 2009 for bribing two judges and was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. Despite his investigative powers as the state’s chief lawyer, Hood cited his closeness to crooks like Scruggs as an excuse not to investigate them, claiming it would be “like prosecuting relatives.”
Hood attempted to censor Google’s search results in violation of the First Amendment, at the urging of several of his campaign supporters. This led to a federal court issuing an injunction against him in March 2015.
Iowa’s Tom Miller is the nation’s third worst attorney general. He has used lawsuits to harm innocent third parties, or even the very people who have allegedly been victimized. In 2012, he negotiated a multi-state mortgage settlement that ripped off innocent mortgage investors, while he reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from out-of-state law firms. Miller also played a key role in negotiating a 46-state settlement with the big tobacco companies that has netted wealthy trial lawyers across the nation more than $15 billion in attorneys’ fees to date. That settlement was paid for primarily by smokers—even though it was the result of lawsuits brought by attorney generals like Miller, who argued that smokers had been deceived by the big tobacco companies about the dangers of smoking.
The remaining three of the nation’s six worst attorneys general are California’s Kamala Harris, Vermont’s William Sorrell, and New York’s Eric Schneiderman. Their offenses are no less appalling. Harris twisted state law at patients’ expense to help a politically connected labor union and has consistently refused to curb misconduct by state lawyers. Sorrell has attacked free-speech rights, hired campaign contributors to sue in exchange for big payouts, and faced serious ethics charges. Schneiderman has turned a blind eye to corruption in Albany and fraud on Wall Street by a political ally, pressured people for campaign donations, and kept money that belongs to the taxpayers in slush funds run by his own office.
All of these AGs share more than just a spot on this list. They also have violated the trust of the citizens of their state and deserve scrutiny for their abuse of authority. The public deserve officials who uphold the laws they are tasked to defend, not use their office as a political weapon.