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The attorney general is West Virginia’s chief legal officer, serving as the adviser to all agency heads in the executive branch, including the governor. As chief legal officer he handles all court suits in which the state is a party and supervises the legal business of state agencies. His office gives written opinions on questions of law and constitutionality on request of the legislature, public officials, and county prosecuting attorneys.

The attorney general is an independent officer, one of the five so-called constitutional officers, who, with the governor, make up the executive branch of West Virginia state government. He has been elected by popular vote since the first constitution in 1863. Although originally this official served for only two years, as did the governor and other state elected officials, today he serves a four-year term and may be reelected to an unlimited number of terms.

The attorney general is a key figure in the operation of government. Not only does he represent the state in all claims against the state, but he also is charged with the power to initiate criminal proceedings on office authority alone. The attorney general serves on numerous boards, such as the Housing Development Board, the Board of Public Works, and the Public Land Corporation. The varied functions of the attorney general can be seen by the extensive organization chart of the office. Divisions include matters dealing with civil rights, antitrust, consumer protection, health and human resources, and public safety. There is even a division that handles tax, revenue, education, arts, and transportation.

As an independently elected officer, the attorney general is a strong political figure, sometimes contending with the governor and other members of the executive branch. The formal and informal powers of the attorney general have expanded in recent years, and sometimes the office is a stepping stone to the governor’s office.

Darrell McGraw, a Democrat, was elected attorney general in 1992 and reelected in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008. He was defeated in 2012 by Republican Patrick Morrisey.

This Article was written by Evelyn L. Harris

Last Revised on August 14, 2013

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Cite This Article

Harris, Evelyn L. "Attorney General." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 August 2013. Web. 21 September 2018.

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