In 2008, the Decatur Daily reported recently, the state attorney general’s office paid private attorneys $0 — zilch, nada, nothing. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the state paid more than $271,000 — which is down from the high of $317,310 in 2010.
Why the increase? Can’t the 84 attorneys who work in the attorney general’s office handle this case load?
To be fair, often cases require special expertise that the state’s attorneys do not have. There also is the cost of expert witnesses or money paid to other states during multi-state disputes.
Also, to be fair, when complicated cases such as the BP oil spill or the immigration lawsuits come before the courts, the attorney general’s office is stretched thin. As a result, outside attorneys are brought in for other cases.
We commend the attorney general for handling the BP litigation with the attorneys on staff. AG Luther Strange also stuck with state lawyers in dealing with the immigration lawsuits.
The difference is that when it came to immigration, we brought it on ourselves — or at least the legislators and the governor who pushed that hideous immigration-reform bill brought it on us.
If the state Legislature had not passed that anti-immigrant act, the attorneys who defended it could have been used on other cases.
Immigration is not the only example of bad law and bad policy costing Alabama money. If state attorneys had not been tied up defending laws that were either poorly written or should never have been written at all, those attorneys would have been free to work on cases involving “electronic gambling disputes,” thus saving taxpayers the $364,761 paid to a Birmingham law firm for its work on in that area.
However, if the Legislature and governor had taken a more rational approach to the question of gambling in the state — including a popular vote on the issue — the attorneys who would have been available for that litigation would have been free to help with other cases where outside attorneys were hired.
Put simply, better laws and more reasonable enforcement can save the state a lot of money.