"My opponent steered lucrative contracts to the law firm of Siegfried & Jensen shortly after the firm hired his daughter as a paralegal," said Jean Welch Hill, the Democrat who hopes to unseat Attorney General Mark Shurtleff this November. Shurtleff, a Republican, seeks his third term.
"He entered those contracts without a formal, competitive bidding process and that is alarming," Hill said during a recent debate.
The A.G.'s Office said it handled the contract properly and gave no thought to campaign contributions or any factors other than legal expertise and competence and cost.
Shurtleff said the firm of Garretson & Steele - Joseph Steele has ties to Siegfried & Jensen - was selected for the state's Zyprexa and Vioxx Medicaid cases through an informal bid process in 2005.
In a related case, in April 2007, Garretson & Steele was brought on as local counsel for the average wholesale price (AWP) case that goes after drug companies and their per-pill Medicaid overcharges.
Steele said he serves as Siegfried & Jensen's counsel and also works out of the firm's Murray offices. He is listed as one of the firm's attorneys on its Web site.
Over the past eight years, Siegfried & Jensen donated close to $60,000 to Shurtleff's campaign. Shurtleff denies any connection between that cash, his daughter's job and the awarding of the contracts.
A matrix, furnished by the A.G.'s Office, indicates a financial comparison among four firms invited to submit bids.
"Garretson & Steele had the expertise and ability and was the cheapest by far," Shurtleff said, describing Matthew Garretson as the national leader in developing damage models used in such cases. Under the contract, the firm would receive 15 percent of whatever the state recovers.
According to state Purchasing Director Nancy Orton, the A.G.'s Office has latitude to hire legal services on its own. Specific administrative rules govern the process.
The rules require that competitive sealed proposals - obtained through a formal request for proposals printed in the newspaper - be used for contracts for outside counsel.
Exceptions to this rule include contracts of $10,000 or less, sole-source situations where only one firm could handle the job or an emergency, where time is a pressing factor.
According to the rules, a skirting of the RFP process requires a written finding from the attorney general.
No formal RFP occurred and no finding was written, said Chief Deputy Attorney General Ray Hintze.
"We contacted them and had a total of four firms we invited to make presentations," Hintze said.
A general RFP would not have been very useful, he added, because very few firms have the required qualifications.
However, Hintze said it was neither a sole-source nor emergency situation.
"We felt under the circumstances that so much special knowledge was required," Hintze said, "we wanted to go with the prime firms that we knew could handle it."
Hintze and other A.G. staff conducted the interviews, and Shurtleff participated in the final decision, Hintze said.
"He did not lean on us at all, and none of us knew about his daughter's job or the donations to his campaign," Hintze said.
In hindsight, Hintze acknowledge those factors could look suspicious. "But that clearly was not the basis for any consideration with this contract," he said.
"Mark is well-respected, he's earned that respect and people make contributions to those they feel are doing a good job."