Every state has an attorney general as part of the state government. The attorney general is usually an elected official and is often limited by a state's constitution to serving two four-year terms. The attorney general is the chief legal advisor and law enforcement officer for the state, and has many different responsibilities, including protecting consumers from fraud.
Attorney General as Chief Legal Advisor
The attorney general is the chief legal advisor to state officials. The attorney general provides formal legal opinions to a state's governor and other appointed or elected state officials on constitutional or legal matters. In some states, the attorney general provides informal legal opinions to local government officials upon their request.
These opinions can address the official's duties or the legality of actions that the official wants to take. An attorney general's opinion can also advise government officials on the constitutionality or legality of proposed legislation.
Chief Law Enforcement Officer
The state attorney general is a state's chief law enforcement officer and maked sure state laws are properly interpreted and enforced. The attorney general:
- Represents the people in civil and criminal matters before all state and federal courts
- Is named as a party in a lawsuit on behalf of the People
- Assists district attorneys, local law enforcement, and federal and international criminal justice agencies in law enforcement matters
The attorney general also oversees the civil divisions of the attorney general's office or a state's department of justice. These divisions advocate for the public on matters involving:
- Antitrust law
- Civil rights
- Consumer protection
- Energy and utility company regulation
- Environmental protection
- Health care
- Internet regulation
- Investment protection
- Tobacco lawsuit settlement compliance
Division of Consumer Protection
You are most likely to come into contact with an attorney general's office through its consumer fraud and protection division. This division offers valuable assistance to consumers by prosecuting businesses and individuals engaged in fraudulent, misleading, deceptive or illegal trade practices. It is the division to contact if you have a complaint about a product or service.
Common complaints handled by this division include issues related to unfair mortgage foreclosure practices, travel agencies that don't deliver on vacation promises, illegal e-mail advertising, and home repair and remodeling contractors that fail to complete jobs despite being paid in advance.
The consumer fraud division might resolve a problem without going to court, such as when mediation services are used to help parties find a solution to their dispute, or if someone has broken a consumer protection law, a criminal prosecution might be pursued.
Learn more about the services offered by your state's attorney general's office, and find about the current issues in your state by checking out the web site for your state's attorney general's office.