OPINION

AG highlights successes, challenges of 2020

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and his office persevered through an unprecedented year in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to combat the opioid crisis, protect pipeline jobs and win major settlements for consumers and much more in 2020.

“This year has been unlike any other,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Our dedicated team overcame the challenges 2020 brought with tremendous tenacity and determination to maintain the rule of law, help preserve the constitutional freedoms of its citizenry and score significant victories to fight opioid abuse and secure major settlements to benefit West Virginia consumers.”

Attorney General Morrisey’s office focused extensively on issues related to COVID-19, including numerous investigations, proactive outreach on critical consumer issues and handling the heavy litigation load caused by virus-related complaints.

The office also provided important guidance to government leaders regarding the election and various other matters related to COVID-19.

Not lost in the pandemic was Attorney General Morrisey’s continued fight against the opioid epidemic.

The Attorney General opened a new front in holding corporations accountable and, separately, released findings of his years-long investigation into the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s irresponsible approach to drug quotas – all part of a holistic approach to attack opioid abuse from a supply, demand and educational perspective.

The DEA report revealed never-before-seen documents showing that DEA routinely accepted sales projections and unsupported claims of increased demand from drugmakers, yet failed to question how many pills fell into the hands of abusers as overdose deaths skyrocketed from 2010 to 2016.   

In court, the Attorney General filed suit against CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens and Walmart alleging each national chain knowingly distributed more opioid pills to its pharmacies than was medically necessary.

Attorney General Morrisey secured two major victories for pipeline construction at the U.S. Supreme Court. In February, his office presented oral arguments that led justices to clear a legal hurdle that had blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Randolph and Pocahontas counties.

Weeks later, the Attorney General protected pipeline jobs in West Virginia and nationwide by winning a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court that ensured one Montana district court judge wouldn’t possess the power to drive national policy on an issue as critical as pipeline construction.

Attorney General Morrisey’s consumer protection efforts scored a historic victory in October with a $101.35 million settlement to recoup state road funding and restore competition in the state-approved asphalt and paving market. It marked the largest, single-state antitrust settlement in West Virginia’s history.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection unit also reached a $3.9 million surgical mesh and hip replacement settlement with Johnson & Johnson; erased more than $1 million in debt for West Virginia students of the former ITT Technical Institute; and reached terms with German engineering corporation Robert Bosch to close out more than $3.2 million in settlements related to the 2015 Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal.

Other accomplishments include the following:

    •    Successfully defended farmers and property owners in convincing a federal court to allow the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule to go into effect.

    •    Fought for coal miners by leading oral arguments and briefs supporting the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule.

    •    Successfully defended the state’s right-to-work law at the state Supreme Court of Appeals, arguing the measure is constitutionally sound.

    •    Investigated alleged tampering of absentee ballot requests, leading to the conviction of a Pendleton County mail carrier in the run-up to the primary election.

    •    Investigated the closure of Fairmont Regional Medical Center, pressure from which helped in leading its owner to promise approximately $1.24 million in paid time off and more than $125,000 in retirement benefits to workers of the now shuttered hospital.

    •    Returned more than $7 million to state coffers, reaching a cumulative total of more than $52.6 million since 2013.

    •    Filed lawsuits against Facebook and Google to restore competition and halt monopolistic behavior within Big Tech.

    •    Defended the constitutionality of a tourism law important to completing the Hill Top Hotel project in Harpers Ferry — a $138 million project with potential to boost the state’s economy.

    •    Called upon telecommunications companies, Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Supreme Court to take steps to stop unlawful robocalls.

    •    Finished 2020 on pace to exceed $25 million in disability fraud savings since inception of the office’s Social Security disability fraud partnership.

    •    Fought to protect Second Amendment rights and maintained concealed carry recognition with majority of states across the nation.

    •    Bolstered staffing and dramatically increased the number of new investigations opened by the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

    •    Defended the right of states to prohibit certain types of abortions.

    •    Worked to expand broadband access and competition, including support for an initiative with Tractor Supply Co. to provide free Wi-Fi in store parking lots.