The war of words between Louisiana's attorney general and a former state senator over who should represent Louisiana's contractor licensing board rages on in state district court in Baton Rouge.
Larry Bankston, a convicted felon who was temporarily disbarred, sued state Attorney General Jeff Landry's office last month for refusing to approve his contract extension as legal counsel for the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors — a position he had held since early 2016.
Landry, a Republican who has repeatedly clashed with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, initially questioned whether a felon should be allowed to work for the state. He also cited Bankston's prior disbarment as a lawyer.
In an escalating feud, state Attorney General Jeff Landry asked Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration to justify why a felon should serve as …
"While these issues alone were sufficient grounds to reject the board's prior contract with Bankston & Associates …, the Attorney General nevertheless approved the contract in light of a strong endorsement of Mr. Bankston by the Governor's Office," Landry's attorneys stated in documents filed earlier this month in the court battle between the attorney general and Bankston. The case is being heard by state District Judge Wilson Fields.
Bankston, a Democrat, is an ally of Edwards.
Later, however, Landry's office raised conflict-of-interest concerns after Bankston rendered a legal opinion that wound up initially disqualifying the top two bidders for a huge contract to manage Louisiana's $1.6 billion flood-recovery program.
Bankston told the state's contractor licensing board that companies vying for the contract needed to have a residential contractor's license — something that three of the five bidders did not have. The board agreed with him.
Bankston, though, did not disclose to the board that his son works for an affiliate of the bidder ranked No. 3, SLSCO. When the top two bidders, IEM and PDRM, were thrown out, that firm suddenly was poised to get the more than $300 million worth of work.
The Advocate first reported Ben Bankston's relationship to the third-place applicant.
IEM, which was initially awarded the contract, was again awarded the lucrative disaster management contract after it was rebid.
"Mr. Bankston's conduct in regards to the recovery program bids resulted in substantial adverse publicity, and created, at a minimum, the appearance of impropriety," Landry's lawyers wrote in their court filing earlier this month. "It also cast doubt about the state's handling of its flood recovery efforts."
Bankston's attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, fired back in a court filing last week, calling Landry's claim of an undisclosed conflict of interest "fake news."
Former state Sen. Larry Bankston has filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Landry for what he calls Landry's "obvious abuse" of his of…
Pierson argues the legal opinion in question "was not Mr. Bankston's alone" but was issued "in concert with and based upon the research and opinion of the senior staff" of the state contractor licensing board.
"There was never any conflict. Mr. Bankston's opinion was given in response to a complaint/challenge from one bidder, PDRM, against another bidder, IEM. Neither of these companies or their partners and team members are affiliated with Mr. Bankston or his son," she added. "Furthermore, the identity of all the other bidders was not provided to Mr. Bankston by the Office of Community Development", the agency responsible for the request for proposals.
Bankston has said he was unaware that his son's firm, which was not named in the bid package, had a relationship to any of the bidding companies when he wrote his opinion. Bankston has said he learned about the potential conflict only after issuing the opinion. He said his son, Ben, told him he wasn't even aware of the bid by the affiliated company.
Pierson also stressed in her recent court filing that the rebidding of the flood management contract did not delay progress on the state's flood recovery program.
"The real truth is that, conflict or not, the program was not delayed at all by the rebidding because the funds for the project were not even available at the time of the first FRP," she said. "When it was rebid and awarded on April 13, 2017, the funds had only arrived three days earlier."
IEM's second bid came in $6 million less than its first bid.
Pierson labeled the attorney general's claim of an undisclosed conflict by Bankston "completely fabricated" and "best described, in current parlance, as 'fake news.'"
Landry's attorneys contend that Bankston's conduct involving his advice to the Licensing Board for Contractors relative to the bidding "was not reflective of the Governor's strong endorsement."
Landry recently appointed one of his office's lawyers to represent the board.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry is appointing one of his office's lawyers to represent Louisiana's contractor licensing board, rather than …
As for Bankston's prior legal problems, Pierson notes that he was convicted 21 years ago, served his sentence, was pardoned as a first offender, re-admitted to the practice of law by the Louisiana Supreme Court, had his civil rights restored and is a member in good standing with the state Bar Association.
Bankston served 41 months in prison for a 1997 conviction in a video poker-related bribery scheme.