State Attorney General in the United States
The state attorney general is the chief legal officer of state government. As such, the office holder keeps the state’s consumers informed on such issues as fraud, may monitor charitable organizations operating in the state, and prosecutes those who violate commercial law. In addition to publishing laws and statutes, the Attorney General’s website may provide consumer protection advice and allow the public to download complaint forms.
The state attorney general serves as legal counsel to the state governor and state agencies. The state attorney general represents the state in legal proceedings when the state is a party to a legal action. State attorneys general may be asked to issue formal opinions on questions of state law. This function is quasi-judicial in character and these opinions have the force of law. They remain in effect until such time as they may be reversed or modified by a court. Attorneys general are elected in forty-three states and appointed by the governor in the remaining seven.
The attorney general has modest law enforcement authority. While most states allow the attorney general to initiate criminal actions on motion, the prosecutorial functions in most states are assigned to prosecuting attorneys elected at the county level. Only in Alaska, Delaware, and Rhode Island do state attorneys general have supervisory or coordinating power over criminal prosecutions. Also functioning at the local level are corporation counsel who act as counsel for cities, villages, or townships on noncriminal matters. Larger local units may be able to support a staff position(s) for this function. Smaller units may simply retain a local attorney or law firm to serve as corporation counsel when necessary. (1)
Analysis and Relevance
The state attorney general supervises the legal business of state government. He or she renders interpretations of state and local law as well as administrative rules. All state officials are obligated to abide by the attorney general’s view until those interpretations might be removed or modified through court challenge. In the seven states where the governor appoints the attorney general, the latter serves as part of the governor’s administration and is typically in full harmony with the policy directions of the governor.
This situation is wholly analogous to the relationship between the president and the attorney general at the federal level. Most states, however, elect the attorney general independently from the governor. Under these circumstances, the governor and attorney general may or may not function well together. This is especially true when there are partisan differences. The position of state attorney general is also a political stepping stone for many. It is an office often held by congressional, gubernatorial, or state judicial aspirants. (2)
Attorney General in some States
Attorney General of Hawaii
The Attorney General of Hawaii is the chief legal and law enforcement officer of the State of Hawaii. He or she is appointed by the governor and is responsible for advising the various agencies and departments of the executive branch, legislative branch and judicial branch of the state government. He or she is also responsible for the prosecution of offenses to Hawaii Revised Statutes and advocate the basic rights of Hawaii residents. Historically, the Attorney General of Hawaii has been from either the Hawaii Democratic Party or Hawaii Republican Party.
Attorney General of Maryland
The Attorney General of Maryland, as of 2005 former Lieutenant Governor J. Joseph Curran, is the chief legal officer of the State and is elected by the people every four years with no term limits. To run for the office a person must be a citizen of and qualified voter in Maryland and must have resided and practiced law in the state for at least ten years.
Attorney General of Virginia
The Attorney General of Virginia is an executive office in the Government of Virginia. The position is considered the third highest of the three state government offices elected statewide. Judy Jagdmann currently holds the position after the resignation of Jerry Kilgore, who stepped down to focus on his campaign for governor. The next election for the position is November 2005. Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell are running for the position.
Notes and References
- Definition of State Attorney General from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California