CHARLESTON - West Virginia's attorney general is asking the state Supreme Court if his office can help county prosecutors with their criminal cases.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey petitioned the court Monday to prohibit two state entities from enforcing a legal opinion that says his office's lawyers can't serve as assistant county prosecutors.
The state Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Lawyer Disciplinary Board contend the attorney general has no statutory or constitutional authority to assist county prosecutors in criminal cases. The only exception would be incidents at state correctional facilities.
"The Board's opinion is legally incorrect, exceeds the scope of the rules, and misunderstands the authority of the Attorney General's Office," Solicitor General Elbert Lin wrote Monday on behalf of Morrisey.
The attorney general's office and the state entities it represents rarely conflict with county prosecutors' interests, Morrisey's petition states. Additionally, assisting attorneys would then answer to the county prosecutor.
Earlier this month, Preston County Prosecuting Attorney Mel Snyder reached out for additional help from Morrisey. Snyder told the Republican attorney general that sexual assault, drug crime and public corruption cases have inundated his office.
"Frankly, my office has been overwhelmed with an ever increasing workload for over a year now," Snyder wrote.
The petition says Mingo County Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith also asked for Morrisey's help last year.
Smith asked if one of Morrisey's lawyers could fill in as interim prosecuting attorney and potentially accept the job full-time. The previous prosecutor, Michael Sparks, resigned while facing federal corruption charges.
Morrisey's office has not assisted either county, the petition states.
Democratic Senate President Jeff Kessler, who served as an assistant prosecutor for 15 years in Marshall County, also didn't see how Morrisey would have legal authority to help prosecutors.
"I don't think that, with the fact that they have a temporary crunch or whatever at the time, we should be making the attorney general the prosecutor in every county," Kessler said. "That's why we elect prosecutors."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office declined to comment on Morrisey's arguments.
Morrisey's petition asks the Supreme Court to hold oral arguments on the case.