Generally when we hear about state attorneys general in the news, it is because they are suing tobacco companies, or defending high-profile state laws in court. But state attorneys general (“SAGs”) can also be a good resource for guidance on everyday legal issues. SAGs are tasked with providing legal protection to their state’s residents, which means pursuing big lawsuits sometimes, but also providing guidance on issues such as consumer fraud, elder abuse, and victims’ rights.
The websites of various SAGs provide a variety of resources. The Arizona SAG site, has a section on what to do about annoying telemarketers and informative brochures regarding foreclosure, cybercrime, and civil rights. The Texas SAG site provides information on what to do if you suspect a case of domestic violence or child abuse. In Maryland, there are online consumer protection resources on issues such as nursing homes, identity theft, and landlord-tenant matters.
Although many government and non-profit organizations offer online legal research resources, the SAG sites are unique in that, in addition to viewing information online, the sites often allow you to also take the next step of filing a consumer complaint. SAGs also serve as a place to register complaints about companies engaged in fraudulent practices or violations of civil rights. Some states, such as Arizona and Texas, allow residents to register complaints online. When SAGs receive enough complaints about a single company, they may pursue large-scale legal action against that company.
In addition to providing legal resources and pursuing legal action, SAGs also publish legal “Opinions” on a variety of topics. SAGs write Opinions to explain a particular area of law and then publish these opinions as guidance for state agencies and the public. Generally, a state agency will request an Opinion on a particular matter, the SAG office will do legal research, and then make that Opinion available to the public. Sometimes these Opinions will be on obscure legal topics, such as distribution of property tax levies. But other times the Opinions may be regarding topics such as changing your last name after a divorce. Often the archives, such as Washington State’s, are searchable by subject matter, or like Alabama’s, are searchable by full-text. If you are doing legal research on a particular topic, a quick search of your SAG’s online opinion archive is a good idea. It is like having an attorney do free legal research for you!
In a state’s Court Opinions and Orders section on CourtReference, you will find a link to SAG official opinions. Click on any of these links for a particular state, and you will be directed to that state’s SAG website, where you may also find a variety of other consumer resources. At CourtReference, we strive to provide our users with the most useful legal research resources – do not overlook the state attorneys general sites next time you need some legal help!