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April 11. 2012 11:54PM

AG asks to join oil suit, gets heated GOP answer

CONCORD — Attorney General Michael Delaney wants to hire outside counsel so New Hampshire can join with about 25 other states in a lawsuit against major oil companies over price gouging.

According to information supplied to members of the Legislative Fiscal Committee, Delaney is asking to hire an out-of-state law firm to bring claims of unjust enrichment against major oil companies.

But House Speaker William O'Brien and House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt call the request part of a partisan political agenda and a waste of taxpayers' money. They also said the action harms the reputation of the office; Bettencourt called for Delaney's removal.

Delaney angered the House Republican leadership last year when he refused to join 28 other states in filing a suit against the federal health care reform act, and told them their directive was unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court sided with Delaney.

On Wednesday, O'Brien said: “For an attorney general who refused to join with 28 other states in the lawsuit against Obamacare, which represents a massive unfunded mandate to our state taxpayers, and which threatens the liberty of every New Hampshire resident, to suddenly rush to waste taxpayer money to join a speculative and likely frivolous lawsuit against energy companies is a sad day for our state.”

He said the attorney general's request is driven by a Democratic political agenda.

“Once again, politics trumps justice for Michael Delaney,” O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said.

Delaney's office did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

In his letter to the Fiscal Committee, Delaney said the request would have no immediate impact on state finances, but if successful, there could be a large settlement for the state.

Attorneys would deduct 25 percent for their fees and services.

“Approximately 25 other states have retained the same outside counsel to assist in bringing similar claims and demands against the major oil companies,” Delaney writes. “As a result, the law firm has unique expertise and data that can be used to New Hampshire's advantage in bringing these claims.”

O'Brien said many investigations by economists and law enforcement show gas prices rise due to market forces and the price of crude oil — not the “liberal fiction of price-fixing by energy companies.”

He said the nation needs a national energy policy, but this lawsuit will not accomplish that.

“It will hit New Hampshire taxpayers twice: first as they pay these unwarranted legal bills and then finally as it adds to the cost of energy companies doing business, which they will pass on to consumers,” O'Brien said.

He said the request will be strongly opposed when the Fiscal Committee meets Friday at 10 a.m. in Rooms 210-211 of the Legislative Office Building.

Bettencourt, R-Salem, said Delaney's term as attorney general cannot end soon enough.

“Sadly, this episode once again highlights just how far this attorney general has taken his personal partisan politics and placed them ahead of the best interests of our citizens,” Bettencourt said. “We need change in the Attorney General's Office, and the sooner the better.”

The New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a free-market, limited-government advocacy group also criticized the AG's request.

“I implore the Fiscal Committee to put a stop to this politically motivated stunt by denying his office the funds requested,” said Corey R. Lewandowski, state director of Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire.

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