One of the most problematic state attorney general practices is hiring private attorneys to sue on behalf of the states. Sometimes the contracts between the state and the outside attorney are secret, meaning no one knows how much the outside attorneys stand to make during the litigation.
Over the years, over a dozen states have acted to rein in this practice, promote transparency, and make sure that victims, not plaintiffs’ lawyers, receive most of any settlement or award. In 1999, Texas was one of the first states to enact a law to limit the fees outside attorneys can charge when the state hires them. The law also allows the Legislature to review contracts with outside attorneys.
Now, the Texas Legislature has an important opportunity to protect the state’s taxpayers from a costly lawsuit. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently hired a prominent personal injury trial lawyer, Mark Lanier, to represent the Lone Star State in its antitrust suit against Google. Now, the Legislature must sign off on or reject his $43 million contract. Lanier claims that, like a contestant on the Bachelor, he’s taken the case for the “right reasons.” But it’s not clear why outside lawyers are needed. The Texas Attorney General’s office is one of the largest in the country, employs over 700 lawyers, and includes a robust antitrust division.
While any state outsourcing lawsuits against businesses is troubling, Texas’s move to bring in the Lanier Law Firm is especially problematic. The attorney general is handing control of the lawsuit to a firm which had a case overturned by the Fifth Circuit because of Lanier’s questionable tactics. The firm has also racked up massive paydays through other mass tort lawsuits and appears to be looking for another big score here.
Texas has every right to enforce its laws against companies it believes have engaged in misconduct. It may sometimes make sense to hire private attorneys to help, especially in cases involving specialized areas of the law. But this isn’t the situation here, and state lawmakers are rightfully taking a long, hard look at the firm’s track record before putting it on the state’s payroll and giving it control over the litigation. The money Lanier has asked for belongs to Texas taxpayers, and handing tens of millions of dollars over to a trial lawyer in a time of economic uncertainty is not in those taxpayers’ best interest.
Texas’s laws make clear outside lawyers are selected for a good reason and paid reasonable rates for their services. General Paxton’s deal with the Lanier Law Firm doesn’t measure up to those standards.