November 2, 2022
Partner, Dentons US LLP
From deceptive trade practices to organized retail crime, the United States faces no shortage of legal challenges impacting the business community. U.S. state attorneys general play a critical role in addressing these challenges as they counsel state government agencies while advocating for the public interest.
As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) Summit, the state attorneys general of Virginia and Maryland shared their insights on some of the country’s most pressing concerns.
Deceptive Trade Practice Laws Are Designed to Stop 'Bad Actors,' Not Harm Small Business
A primary goal of the state attorney general’s office is to stop deceptive trade practices. As government policy is established and enforced, however, some business community members are concerned that small or “regular” businesses may be unfairly impacted. In response to this, the state attorneys general emphasized their focus on targeting bad corporate actors, particularly those whose practices negatively impact a large number of people.
“Our priorities are to get the biggest bang for our buck,” said Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland. “If we see conduct that’s really terrible that impacts lots of people, that’s at the top of our list.”
“I want businesses to thrive and hire people … and part of that is holding people accountable when they are using deceptive practices … [and] taking advantage of individuals,” stressed Jason Miyares, Attorney General of Virginia. “If you’re a good corporate actor, I want to work with you … [and] if not, we’re going to hold you accountable.”
Organized Retail Crime Poses a Threat to the Business Community
Another major issue facing U.S. businesses today is the proliferation of organized retail crime. Small businesses, in particular, may struggle to bounce back after a major hit — or several “smaller” hits that do not legally aggregate but can still add up to a significant loss. Many employees are told they cannot stop people who are stealing, and in most states, attorneys cannot prosecute for incidents under a certain dollar amount.
“[This] has created a real problem for those in the retail space because they just can’t operate in that environment,” said Miyares. “If [businesses] don’t feel protected, candidly, they’re not going to stay.”
Despite these limitations, legal solutions and leveraging resources can help take down major organized crime rings.
“What we found was some ‘smash and grab’ operations fit very nicely into our gang statute, and so we’ve been able to go after some of the larger organizations,” added Frosh. “Most of [the stores] have security cameras, and through the use of those as well as [the selling of stolen goods on] social media … we were able to take [them] down.”
Public-Private Partnerships Can Advance Solutions
Public-private partnerships have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, allowing government and business leaders to collaborate on pressing issues. The attorney general’s office is no exception to this, citing goals to work with the private sector to identify problems and advance solutions.
“We represent every single agency — the governor, the general assembly, the judiciary, and every single executive agency,” Frosh explained. “When the state is engaging in public-private partnerships, we’re in the middle of it, [so] we give the best possible advice to the agency that’s involved, and we try to make sure it runs smoothly.”
“Over half of the legislative proposals we’re going to recommend to the general assembly … have come from meetings with those in the private sectors that have brought us issues they have faced,” said Miyares. “We cannot be subject matter experts in all areas of the law, [so] we oftentimes count on those from the private sector to make us aware [of the issues] … we want to work with, not against, the private sector.”