ELKINS - West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made stops in Elkins and Parsons Wednesday, continuing his whistlestop tour of every county in West Virginia.
It was standing room only in the Randolph County Commission meeting room at the James F. Cain Courthouse Annex as approximately 50 citizens turned out for Morrisey's Town Hall meeting in Elkins Wednesday evening.
Morrisey began the Elkins session by providing background about what his office has been doing over the past 18 months and explaining some of the powers his office has. A major emphasis of his presentation was how his office could affect and improve economic growth in the state.
"We have been looking at every possible angle to make sure West Virginia can reach her full potential," he said.
Morrisey explained to the audience the main reason he's held Town Hall meetings around the state has been to what the concerns and problems are on the local level.
When he opened the session to questions, an audience member asked who set regulations and policies for the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Morrisey explained the DMV issued their own regulations, sometimes with mandates from the Legislature and sometimes with guidance and advice from his office.
Another audience member asked him about the definition of "probable cause" as it relates to law enforcement agencies' ability to enter and search a location when drug use and manufacturing are suspected. The questioner stated there were many jurisdictions in the state and that they did not all follow the same definition.
Morrisey explained his office wanted to work with local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.
"When conflicts appear, we can find different ways to harmonize those conflicts," he said.
In answer to a question regarding drug testing of people on public assistance programs, Morrisey said, "That is something that is going to take additional legislative activity."
When questioned about a possible repeal of West Virginia laws banning same-sex marriage and whether churches would be forced to perform ceremonies despite their beliefs, Morrissey explained there is currently in federal court a legal challenge to the state's ban. He said he would need to see how the court ruled before he could offer an opinion on what the church would be required to do.
Morrissey expressed the hope that those in attendance gained something from the Town Hall meeting. He said he definitely appreciated the chance to meet with people to explain what his office was doing to fulfill its job, and he valued the opportunity to meet with citizens to learn the local issues and problems that concern them.
Parsons Town Hall
About 35 residents gathered at the Tucker County Courthouse Courtroom for Morrisey's Parsons Town Hall meeting Wednesday afternoon.
"I am a big believer that, as your attorney general, it is important to visit every single county in the state," Morrisey said. "I think the needs of Tucker County are different than the needs of Kanawha County, which are different from the needs of Ohio County and Logan County."
Morrisey said he has been trying, in the past 18 months, to travel the state as much as he can.
"By the end of tonight, we will have held 48 town hall meetings, which helps me do my day-to-day job while learning about the unique challenges facing your county, and ideally applying that knowledge to my day-to-day activities," he said. "I want to be the best attorney general possible."
Morrisey said the law runs through everything citizens do.
"An attorney general who is proactive, working with consumers, businesses and leaders around the state can help West Virginia rise in the economic rankings," he said. "I am committed to help ensure we are going to eradicate poverty in the state but grow from an economic perspective."
Morrisey said his office has about 190 employees in seven divisions. On a daily basis, they represent more than 60 agencies.
"We go across the board, and are involved in virtually every aspect of state government," he said. "There is always some legal question involved in the day-to-day activities of state agency boards and departments. We try to provide the best possible legal counsel for those divisions."
He said his office is also in charge of consumer protection, trying to block scams from occurring and of enforcing the state's civil rights laws.
Morrisey also answered questions from those gathered for the Tucker County town meeting.
Business owner Patrick Darlington asked Morrisey about the frivolous law suit problem in the state.
"I know tort reform is probably not going to happen, but what can the attorney general do to cut down on these lawyers on every corner who file lawsuits with no merit just to receive the fees?" Darlington said. "They are not even concerned about their clients."
Morrisey said he is concerned.
"Regardless whether people think that the ranking is true or not, some publications talk about West Virginia being a judicial hellhole," Morrisey said. "Whether you agree or disagree with that, there is a perception issue we have to address. So our office has been focusing on legal reforms that I think are helping the climate. We changed how outside counsel are hired. We supervise them, we manage them very closely so when the law is being enforced, it is being enforced the right way."
Morrisey said folks know there is someone in the attorney general's office that is on top of all those issues.
"Now some of the perverse financial incentives are no longer in place," Morrisey said. "Obviously, we have also changed how settlement money is handled so there is once again, the right incentive to file suits and bring in money."
Ray LaMora III asked Morrisey about the Second Amendment.
"I was pleasantly surprised while coming back from my grandfather's in New Mexico, that we were able to have a valid concealed carry all the way from New Mexico driving to West Virginia," LaMora said. "Are you still working with states? Is there anything in the works that we may be extending our concealed carry reciprocity?"
"We have been working hard, dramatically extending the states in West Virginia," Morrisey said. "Since taking office, I have added six or seven states. Between reciprocity and the number of states that recognize West Virginia laws, I think we are up to 36. There are a couple more we may be able to bring on board, but we have to renew each of these each year, too."
Morrisey closed by asking if the town meetings were helpful.
"If you guys have specific questions or ideas, please let me know," Morrisey said. "I do work for you, and while I may not always agree with you on things, I take it seriously and I want to make sure our office becomes known as one of the best law firms in the state, and one of the best attorney general offices in the country. I think that helps West Virginia when we are out trying to lure capital in and become vibrant economically. I want people to say, hey, that's a good office - they do things the right way."