Does an Attorney General both represent and act as the state in a civil suit?

A question I am pondering after today’s news.

It’s previously been reported that the Trump Org offered to settle this case and that the AG’s office refused. In a civil suit between two individuals, the plaintiff would make that decision based on advice from legal representation.

In this case, Letitia James is representing New York State in her role as AG, and a state is obviously not a person. So when the Trump Org offered to settle, is she (as head of the AG’s office) also the one who ultimately made the decision to decline? Is she both the attorney for and the corporeal embodiment of the state when it comes to making legal decisions in the state’s interest?

That’s a good question, and it probably varies by state. I know in Alaska when we settled suits against the state they had to get legislative approval to fund the settlement. It was a technicality, but slowed things down.

Is the NY Attorney General the client, or simply the attorney for the State, with someone else needed to sign off? My guess is that is she can file the suit on her own accord, (which I think she did) then she can resolve it too.

“Attorney” means someone appointed in someone else’s stead.

So the Attorney General is the person who’s been elected to represent the State in all things legal- the State’s lawyer, so to speak. She’s got the ability to represent the State in the same way that your attorney represents you- without your explicit input on many things in fact.

So yes they have the ability and right to agree (or not) to plea deals and out-of-court settlements on behalf of the State.

I get the impression what you’re asking is whether she has to take something like a proposed settlement back to some other elected politicians (governor, legislature, etc…) for a decision to be made on the State’s behalf. I could be wrong, but I don’t think she does- she’s got that ability as part of the office.

Like I mentioned in the OP, the article says the AG’s office turned down the deal, so that was my assumption as well. I’m more interested in the fact that a state, not being a person, cannot give explicit or implicit input on any component of a civil suit. If I were suing the Trump Org and they offered a settlement, I assume my attorney would generally not be allowed to accept without talking to me.

So maybe the relationship is closer to one where the client is in a coma or otherwise incapable and the attorney has been authorized to make all decisions on their behalf?

I’m not suggesting anything hinky, mind you. I just find the relationship interesting.

I think attorneys can technically make those decisions without you in your best interest.

That said, state AGs are elected officials- it’s not like they’re some appointee. When they’re elected, they’re being elected with the mandate that they can and will act in that capacity for the state. And they’re independently elected officials, so they don’t answer to the Governor, etc…

In effect, the voters as “the State” have elected the AG to act in their stead in all legal matters concerning the State.

It’s no different than District Attorneys in counties, or the US Attorney General- they don’t have to clear it with other elected officials like county commissioners or Congress, because they’ve been elected specifically to perform that particular duty on behalf of the State.

The Governor appoints the AG in In Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wyoming. In Tennessee, the state Supreme Court does the appointing.

That’s a good way of putting it into perspective.

Maybe in those states, the AGs do have to consult with the state government.


What exactly does “ahem” and a bare link have to do with anything?

I can tell you this much about NY - when the AG is settling a suit against state employees in their official capacities, someone from the involved agency must sign off on it. However, this lawsuit seems to have been filed by the AG’s office , so that would be the agency that approved any settlement.

Nope. Settlement decisions are made by the client, not the lawyer. The lawyer gives advice and recommendations, but it’s the client’s call.

If the client is incapacitated (eg coma), then the court will appoint a representative for the client to make decisions for the client. The representative will generally not be the lawyer.

The link is to an official Justice Dept site, describing their lawsuit unit.

That link is to the US Justice Department, not the New York State equivalent.