Commentary: The Best Defense: A Former AG

Who are you going to call when the state attorneys general come knocking? Generally, the best bet is none other than a former AG. In recent years, several of them have built up sizable practices advising companies that have been targeted by multistate task forces.

The dean of these practitioners is Andy Miller, a two-time Virginia attorney general who has represented the tobacco industry and gun manufacturers, among others. Now, he has a growing number of competitors, including former Maine AG James E. Tierney, ex-Maryland AG Stephen H. Sachs, and Jeff Modisett, who held the post in Iowa from 1997 to 2000. These lawyers help clients understand the sometimes mystifying ways of the AGs. "You have to hire them," says one legal adviser to a large company sued by several states. "Anybody who says you can get by without them doesn't know what they're talking about."

Like Senators and CEOs, attorneys general are a tightly knit group. They attend several conferences sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) each year and back one another up on pet causes. The former AGs, who are often seen trolling the NAAG get-togethers, provide unrivaled access to these power brokers. In fact, the Society of Attorneys General Emeritus (SAGE) gather together every year at NAAG's spring meeting in Washington, D.C., and have dinner with their successors. "A lot of us socialize together, go to one another's kids' weddings, and stay in touch by e-mail," says Tierney.

Access is not always a guarantee of success in court, however. Law enforcers such as New York's Eliot Spitzer and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal have a reputation for resisting arm-twisting efforts, even by their former brethren. And sometimes, approaching an AG directly can backfire. "You have to be careful about going over the heads of the career staffers," says Richard Cullen, a former Virginia AG who practices in Richmond. All risks are relative, of course. A greater danger is to underestimate the AGs in the first place.

By Mike France in New York

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