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When AGs Attack!

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Governor Eliot Spitzer came in for a bit of a drubbing on this page last week. After reviewing a history of the misconduct of his team when he was New York’s Attorney General—a pattern that seems largely unchanged now that he has been elevated by the citizens of our state to the governor’s mansion—we nicknamed him “Loathsome Eliot”—a tag we hope will stick.
But we did note—if not quite in defense of Spitzer then at least in mitigation—that the problem might not lie solely within, well, the soul of Spitzer. It may, indeed, sit at the very foundation of the modern office of Attorney General, which has lately become the font of many of the worst lawsuits launched against businessmen and Wall Street executives. This morning’s Wall Street Journal carried an editorial—at the World they call these things ‘randos,’ which is short for ‘reviews and observations’—drawing our attention back to the Attorney Generals.
It should hardly be news to anyone reading DealBreaker that Spitzer’s successes have spawned a generation of vipers—Mini-Me AGs who hope to follow Spitzer into their state’s executive suite by garnering notoriety for themselves by aggressively prosecuting highly publicized chases against long-standing business practices. At the heart of the problem with our Attorney Generals is a lack of any code of conduct or guidelines, according to the study out of the Institute for Legal Reform cited by the editorial board of the Journal. In this they are unlike district attorneys or federal prosecutors, who are—at least theoretically—constrained by official standards governing things like notice periods on criminal charges, public comments alleging misdeeds and investigating techniques. The AGs have been set loose upon the world without any manner or manual of restraint—save periodic election—and they are behaving, unsurprisingly, like Grendel in the great hall.
The editorialists at the Journal are perennial optimists, and they optimistically endorse the Institute’s call for a national code of conduct. But, while we continue to resist the label of ‘doomsayer,’ we cannot share their sunny outlook. The monster AGs are already on the prowl, and we’re not sure a manual or a code will be enough to keep them at bay.
AGs Gone Wild [Wall Street Journal]