A bill to limit the use of outside attorneys representing South Carolina has been filed, but it may not reach either floor of the legislature until early next year.
According to the head of one group lobbying for the legislation, Attorney General Alan Wilson supports S419, which was introduced by Sen. Ross Turner (R-Greenville). The bill limits the type of cases in which the attorney general or other state solicitors can hire outside attorneys, and the amount the state can pay. It is aimed at curtailing the state's involvement in class action lawsuits sometimes generated outside the state.
Earl Hunter, executive director of the South Carolina Civil Justice Coalition, which is involved in driving the bill forward, said attorneys are often driven more by making money for themselves than representing the interests of the state.
"In some cases, it is not even an issue in the state but generated by lawyers, either in or out of the state," Hunter told Palmetto Business Daily.
Hunter said Wilson has done a good job limiting the number of cases the state is involved in, with no new ones in the last two years. He added that his group, and other supporters of the bill, are not opposed to the use of outside attorneys, if it is reasonable.
Under the bill, the attorney must make a written determination if a case is cost-effective and in the public interest before signing a contract. Contingency fees will be limited, tiered and have an aggregate cap of $50 million. The tiered system of payments means there will be no great impact on good law firms, Hunter said, adding South Carolina is "just trying to get in line with other states."
The contract must contain clauses ensuring a government attorney maintains control over the litigation and provisions laying out what is expected of the attorneys, including the contingency fee counsel. Details of the contract, including payments made, would be posted on the attorney general's website, and an annual report must be submitted to the senate president and house speaker.
"The attorney general is supportive," Hunter said. "He understands the issues and knows what is going on."
Hunter said he did raise some concerns over a competitive bidding provision within the bill, where three law firms must bid for a contract. This was removed
He told Palmetto Business Daily that 20 other states have similar legislation. He said the bill was assigned to committee but is likely to move forward early next year in the second half of the biennial legislative session.