On occasion, attorneys general hire outside counsel to help with litigation. There may be valid reasons for doing so, but without proper oversight, the practice raises significant concerns. Contracts are often awarded without an open bidding process, and firms selected by the attorney general may be campaign contributors. The attorney general may also allow outside lawyers to collect excessive fees, and prosecutions may be brought whose primary purpose is to enrich private attorneys, not provide justice.
With this in mind, the state of Kentucky recently demonstrated its determination to bring transparency to this often-opaque system.
On March 19, the Kentucky Senate moved to clarify how and when private attorneys can wield power on behalf of the state when they passed HB 198 by a 26-12 vote. HB 198 is a TIPAC bill, a legislative mechanism that 21 states have already passed to improve transparency around state hiring of contingency fee counsel.
This important step comes soon after another legal reform achievement in the Bluegrass State. Prior to this month, Kentucky was one of only two states in the nation that did not protect health care providers’ ability to participate in confidential peer review. That protection allows providers to openly and honestly discuss their respective performance in terms of patient outcomes and other metrics—without it, personal injury lawyers can use the content of providers’ discussions to sue.
Thankfully, Gov. Bevin signed HB 4 on March 9, protecting provider peer review and taking an important step to improve patient care.
Both of these accomplishments help Kentucky combat the perception of the state as a lenient venue for lawsuit abuse. Improvement in this area is sorely needed—the state ranked 42nd in the latest national Lawsuit Climate Survey, reflecting a steady drop from its all-time high of 29th in 2008.
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform applauds Gov. Bevin for signing HB 4 into law, and we encourage him to do the same for TIPAC in the coming days.