The attorney general holds a unique position in state government. Although in most states the attorney general does not act as the local prosecutor, the attorney general, as the chief legal officer, is in charge of all civil legal business for the state.
As the chief legal officer of the state, commonwealth, or territory, the attorney general is the legal advisor to state government branches and agencies, as well as the principal legal representative of the public interest for all citizens.
The attorney general represents the state as a whole, in addition to the branches, agencies and independent or quasi-independent boards and commissions (for example, state professional licensing boards). The attorney general plays a major role in defining the responsibilities of the various agencies of state government through appropriate legal interpretation. This function may be exercised by:
- Issuing formal attorney general opinions.
- Providing informal advice and counsel to state agencies.
- Defending or challenging agency actions in court.
Attorneys also enforce civil state and federal statutes, including consumer protection, antitrust and environmental law. The civil law authority of state attorneys general has also been expanded by state legislatures. New responsibilities for attorneys general include such diverse tasks as:
- Investigation and prosecution of cybercrime and securities fraud.
- Review of non-profit health care provider mergers.
- Statewide investigations.
- Tobacco regulation.
- Protection of vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly.
- Traditional causes of action to address emerging issues, such as fraud, nuisance and tort or contract litigation.