As the legislature's budget writing committee starts taking a closer look at Governor Walker's budget proposals today, one item drawing questions is a million-dollar Republican plan for a solicitor general in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and his Republican colleague, Governor Scott Walker, want to revive the idea of a solicitor general and three assistants to handle state appeals cases. Previous attorney general Democrat Peg Lautenschlager had someone do the solicitor general work, but Van Hollen abolished the office when he was elected, saying it cost too much money. Van Hollen refuses to say he has changed his mind; he just says his department is handling more appeals of state laws.
"Obviously, during the course of the last two years, most of the significant legislation that has been past is being litigated. We have been litigating that with people within the Department of Justice who have other duties, and we have also, as a state, been spending considerable amounts of money on outside counsel."
Van Hollen wants to be able to choose the solicitor general — making the job a political appointment. Some of the bills cracking down on state employees have affected unionized DOJ lawyers, creating what Van Hollen says is an appearance of a conflict of interest.
One of the Democrats on the legislature's Joint Finance Committee, Kenosha Senator Bob Wirch calls the solicitor general a waste of money. He says the current DOJ lawyers should be able to handle all types of cases.
"I mean, they're trained attack dogs that are supposed to go into court. They know about adversarial relations."
Wirch says hiring of outside counsel is more often done when the governor and attorney general are of different political parties. Wirch says he'll try to convince fiscal conservatives on the republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee to sink the solicitor general proposal.