One of my least favorite people in state government is Eternal General Bill Sorrell. According to those who were around at the time, the only reason he’s AG is that (1) he was Howard Dean’s favorite fartcatcher, (2) Dean wanted to appoint Billy to the Vermont Supreme Court but soon realized he was just about the only Vermonter who thought Sorrell was qualified, (3) Dean then appointed the incumbent Attorney General to the Supreme Court, and (4) Dean slid his acolyte into the convenient vacancy. Since then, Sorrell has enjoyed the perks of incumbency in an office few voters pay much attention to. He’s basically a guy born on third base who thinks he hit a triple. And one of my biggest peeves is politicians with unacceptably high ratios of self-image to accomplishment.
Sorrell’s most recent offense against logic is his balls-to-the-wall prosecution of Dean Corren for the unforgivable crime of accepting an in-kind donation worth $255 from the Democratic Party. This, per Sorrell, is a violation of the public financing law worthy of $70,000 in fines and restitution.
Well, a few days after I ranted about this, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz did what he does best: a journalistic take on Sorrell’s sudden Inspector Javert impersonation. In his “Fair Game” column, Heintz presented abundant evidence that Sorrell isn’t just the relatively harmless doofus I thought he was; rather, he may well be a fundamentally corrupt hack who has based his reputation on lucrative backroom deals between state Attorneys General and some of the nation’s biggest law firms.
“I’m a great guy. Just ask me.”
There’s plenty of damning stuff in the column, but I want to zero in on something deep down in the piece. It’s about a New York Times expose of “routine lobbying and deal-making” between Attorneys General and law firms trying to gin up multistate lawsuits.
You know, the very lawsuits that Sorrell endlessly trumpets.
I’d never read about this until I saw it in Heintz’ column, but boy does it stink.
These lawsuits are often over consumer-protection issues; the granddaddy of them all, and Sorrell’s favorite touchstone, was the multistate suit against the tobacco industry that resulted in a huge settlement finalized shortly after Governor Dean parachuted Young Billy into the AG’s office. Sorrell endlessly brags about the millions he brought into the treasury on that deal, even though virtually all the negotiations took place before he became AG.
I’d always just assumed that these big lawsuits were the result of cooperation among state AGs. But the Times reported that ideas for multistate lawsuits generally arise from big law firms, who then go trolling for AGs willing to sign on. These firms are nothing more than white-gloved ambulance-chasers, looking for cases they can cash in on. And share the proceeds with the states that play along.
That throws an entirely different light on these allegedly high-minded battles for our rights and pocketbooks.
Worse, Heintz recounts multiple occasions, as reported in the Times, when Sorrell accepted big campaign donations from law firms that were soliciting Vermont’s participation in one of these multistate suits. And I am shocked, shocked to report that Sorrell greenlighted the suits after accepting those donations.
Sorrell insists he is above reproach. And we’ll just have to take his word for it because he’s the one who decides whether to launch an investigation of himself. And I am shocked, shocked to report that Bill Sorrell believes there’s nothing to investigate about Bill Sorrell because Bill Sorrell has done nothing wrong.
Nice work if you can get it.