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Oklahoma attorney general is concerned about an exemption for higher education in a House bill

An Oklahoma House bill would impose new limits on private attorney contracts. But an exemption for higher education concerns Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whose office handles the contract program.
BY PAUL MONIES pmonies@opubco.com Modified: May 4, 2011 at 12:06 am •  Published: May 4, 2011
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Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Tuesday he's concerned about an exemption for higher education in a bill that would place bidding requirements on private attorney contracts with state agencies.

Private attorneys and law firms have made more than $47 million performing legal work for state agencies and boards since fiscal year 2005, according to annual reports filed with the attorney general's office. That works out to almost $8 million each year.

Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, author of House Bill 1223, said it would not have passed the Senate without the higher education exemption.

“I'm hopeful the bill will pass,” McCullough said. “It is a good government reform measure. A great deal of thought, research and work has gone into this legislation.”

Top spenders listed

Among the state agencies spending the most on private attorneys since fiscal year 2005 were the Transportation Department ($11.9 million), the Grand River Dam Authority ($6.1 million) and the Department of Human Services ($5 million).

Oklahoma State University spent $2.5 million since 2005 on private attorneys and law firms, according to the annual reports.

The state Accountancy Board went from spending about $11,000 on private attorneys in 2005 to spending more than $252,000 in 2010.

Randy Ross, executive director of the board, said administrative and disciplinary actions are now handled by outside attorneys. The board also contracts with the attorney general's office for other legal work because it does not have an attorney on staff. It spent almost $32,000 through the attorney general's office in fiscal year 2010.

Ross said costs increased recently because a case went to district court.

“That's a pretty big case, and anytime you have one that goes outside the administrative process, it gets a lot more serious and lot more expensive,” said Ross, who recently became executive director.

AG part of process

Under current law, agencies and boards must apply to the attorney general's office to contract with private attorneys.

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