While it is true that the hiring of contingency-fee lawyers gives the state greater latitude in prosecuting cases, such arrangements are not without risk.
If the state does not have available funds to prosecute its case, we probably dont have the funds to satisfy a judgement in the event of a loss. Without a guarantor to accept liability, taxpayers could find themselves on the hook for the other sides attorney fees. I would hate to be that elected official who pursued a case on a contingency-fee basis without legislative approval, lost the suit, then went hat-in-hand to the legislature seeking a bailout.
Public policy is needed to clarify when the state can hire contingency fee lawyers, who approves the contract, and who has the authority to appropriate or obligate public funds.
The potential for abuse is not limited to the attorney generals office. We have more than 200 state agencies. Conceivably, any elected official could hire a contingency fee attorney and bypass the checks and balances of government to serve their own personal agenda. The potential pitfalls of oversight, overreach, and misunderstanding can be avoided through the use of a legislative review and approval process.
Jon Opelt, Executive Director
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse/Houston