Big win for W.Va. consumers

West Virginia Supreme Court justices did the right thing for Mountain State residents in affirming the attorney general’s power to investigate potential abuses of consumers. Attorney

General Patrick Morrisey should be vigorous in using that authority, when appropriate.

In a unanimous decision, high court justices ruled against several bill collection agencies that had been subjects of an investigation by the attorney general’s office. In essence, the companies insisted the office had no right to use subpoenas to obtain information for the investigation, or to seek temporary injunctions against them while lawsuits were pursued.

On both counts, justices said the attorney general’s office was right in how it handled the collection agencies.

A key allegation by the four companies’ was that the attorney general’s office had no probable cause to issue subpoenas.

Had that been the case, the companies might have had a point. No government agency should be permitted to harass a business or an individual without having some grounds for investigating.

But in this situation, there was cause for concern. The attorney general’s office had received 16 complaints about the collection companies. There was ample reason to investigate whether they were disobeying the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

In another complaint, the companies insisted the attorney general’s office had no authority to seek temporary injunctions insisting, in effect, that they halt credit collection activities until they obtained state licenses. Again, the high court quite properly sided with the attorney general’s office.

Morrisey understands the import of the ruling. The credit companies “attempted to cripple the office’s ability to issue investigative subpoenas in consumer cases,” he noted. Without that authority, the attorney general’s hands would be tied when consumers report abuses to him.

Of course, Morrisey should use his reaffirmed power sparingly. But when there is reason to believe West Virginia consumers are being victimized, he should not hesitate to investigate and, if appropriate, take further action.