State attorney general gives insight into role
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Oct 31, 2012 | 930 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Attorney General
ROTARY CLUB OF CLEVELAND President Art Rhodes, from left, stands with guest speaker Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper Jr. and other guests, Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy; Chancellor Jerri Bryant; and Criminal Court Judge Carroll Ross, with Rotarians Jim Bilbo and Nicholas Lillios. Banner Photo, JOYANNA WEBER
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“I consider myself the luckiest lawyer in the state,” Tennessee attorney general Bob Cooper Jr. told the Rotary Club of Cleveland Tuesday.

Cooper gave the club an overview of his work and the daily operations of his office.

“It is a real honor to serve the state,” Cooper said. “Essentially the state attorney general’s office is the state’s law firm.”

The office represents the state in all cases, criminal and civil.

“Our workload is heavy, active and diverse,” Cooper said.

There are 150 to 160 attorneys who work in the state attorney general’s office. While the majority of these attorneys work in the Nashville office, some work in smaller offices across the state. The office has 18 different divisions that handle a variety of issues.

Cooper created a new division last year which focuses specifically on Medicaid fraud and integrity.

“The five lawyers who work in that office — their sole job is to find fraud against the TennCare program,” Cooper said.

The office brings in and ensures revenues for the state through litigation, settlement and tax cases.

“Something you may not realize is that just four of our divisions — Bankruptcy; Medicaid fraud; Collections; and Consumer — generate significant revenue for the state. In fact, with just those four divisions we more than pay for the cost of running the office,” Cooper said.

The Tobacco Enforcement Division is also a revenue-building division, bringing $135-$150 million into the state budget.

“In addition to managing one of the largest law firms in the state, the attorney general needs to be a litigator, chief legal officer, law enforcer, legislative adviser and investigator,” Cooper said.

The office also works to end fraud.

Since the mortgage market crashed, the attorney general’s office has found instances where individuals were being faced with foreclosure “through no fault of their own.”

Cooper told of one case where a person had made every payment but was still being faced with foreclosure. This prompted attorneys general across the state to look into “abusive lending practices that led to this crash.”

As a result of their efforts, there has been a national settlement that changes lending practices and works to keep such a crash from happening again.

“That settlement has made a difference here in Tennessee ... we estimate that homeowners in Tennessee have already received some $60 million in benefits from this settlement,” Cooper said.

..In addition to changing some lending practices, the settlement also set up a hotline for homeowners who are struggling.

The office also handles cases against companies that have repeatedly violated environmental laws. He said this enforcement is important to keep waterways, such as the Ocoee River, clean to protect drinking water and the outdoor recreation industries across the state. Other environmental work deals with municipalities that need to update their sewer systems to keep the systems from allowing sewage to escape into the Tennessee River during major storms, Cooper said.

“In addition to litigation, probably our most well-known work products are the written opinions that we put out. These are advisory opinions that go to all three branches of the government,” Cooper said.