The state is being sued over a government agency’s policies, and once again, the Jindal administration is turning to Jimmy Faircloth, the Pineville lawyer who was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s first executive counsel.
Faircloth, Melton & Keiser LLC, his 10-lawyer firm with offices in Alexandria and Baton Rouge, will get paid up to $100,000 to represent the state in a lawsuit filed by ex-state employees over alleged mishandling of the state’s health insurance program. Initial court proceedings in the lawsuit against the Office of Group Benefits are scheduled for July 27.
“I have the benefit of a lot of institutional knowledge. I feel like I should do it,” Faircloth said, adding the firm will play “more of a supporting role” in the Group Benefits litigation.
The contract, finalized last week, started May 4 with an initial term of one year. There is a potential for a two-year extension with added legal expenses.
The contract marks the latest in a string awarded to Faircloth’s law firm since 2012 by a variety of Jindal appointees and agency heads. Legal fees from work in more than two dozen cases now exceed $1.5 million, with cases still pending, according to the Division of Administration.
Faircloth, who graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 1987 and went to law school at Georgia State University, joined Jindal when the governor took office in 2008. He was a key aide involved in the passage of Jindal’s ethics package. He left in July 2009. After an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, Faircloth hung his shingle and since then has been the go-to lawyer for the administration’s high-profile cases, including the defense of the governor’s education package that created a statewide voucher program and that rewrote teacher tenure and pay policies. He’s represented government agencies in public records challenges, a transportation project, civil service disputes and a case involving the state’s self-insurance program.
His law firm also represents the state in litigation involving the Jindal administration’s firing of Client Network Services Inc., a firm based in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. CNSI was awarded a nearly $200 million contract to process Medicaid claims. The Jindal administration ended the contract in March 2013 shortly after word of a federal investigation into the awarding of the contract. CNSI contends the contract was improperly terminated.
According to the state Division of Administration, the state has so far paid Faircloth’s law firm $200,250 for legal services under the maximum $375,000 contract, which runs through May 16, 2017.
Division of Administration spokesman Gregory Dupuis released a statement in response to a question about Faircloth’s hiring in the Office of Group Benefits litigation: “The decision to hire outside counsel is based on a number of factors, including the management of workload, the handling of unique issues, and the availability of qualified counsel relative to other assignments. In this case, it was determined to be in the best interest of the state to have the Faircloth firm work with DOA attorneys in defense of the suit. The resources of the team will be managed to ensure a strong, but cost effective, defense.”
Six retired state employees filed the lawsuit in April in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court alleging that the Jindal administration illegally implemented changes to the state health insurance program. Initial court jockeying will involve motions filed by Office Group Benefits attorneys who argue that the lawsuit is premature.
The lawsuit alleges poor financial management by Group Benefits, which provides coverage to about 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents. A healthy $500 million-plus in reserves dropped to below half that within two years as the administration reduced premiums while medical claims kept rising. The administration then came in with a program revamp that resulted in higher premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses to try to stabilize the situation.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Arthur Smith, said he is looking forward to meeting Faircloth in court.
“I guess he’s getting a lot of money on Gov. Jindal’s litigation,” Smith said.