Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Thursday that his office is terminating state contracts that his predecessor approved for the private law practices of three local district attorneys, a move he said would avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Landry also said his office recently terminated former Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell’s contracts with private lawyers who received roughly $40 million for representing the state in litigation over BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill. Some of those attorneys or law firms had contributed to Caldwell’s political campaigns.
“For far too long, Louisiana has had a reputation of back room deals, and this has eroded the public’s trust in government,” he said during a press briefing in his office.
Landry said he believes the state contracts with district attorneys’ private law practices are “improper” and create “a bad perception” even if they don’t violate any ethics rules.
“Many (residents) may be surprised to learn that some of these elected government officials are receiving a public salary for their position and also running private legal practices on the side,” he said.
A Landry spokesman said the law practices of three district attorneys — Paul Connick in Jefferson Parish, Earl Taylor in St. Landry Parish and James Paxton in East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes — have received a total of approximately $2 million since 2013 under state contracts.
Taylor and Paxton didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
In an emailed statement, Connick said his law firm has done work under four attorneys general. He said the contracts “were not secured through any illegal or unethical back room political deals.” He added, “The inference that I used my public office to secure professional services contracts from the attorney general’s office is totally false.”
E. Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said he doesn’t know the details of the contracts in question, but he said it’s not unusual for district attorneys in Louisiana to perform civil work in private practice — sometimes under state contract.
“This has been going on forever,” he said. “It’s perfectly legal and perfectly ethical.”
He added that Landry is clearly within his rights to make his own decisions about the contracts.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Caldwell said some cases require expertise of an outside attorney, and he believes the ones he used yielded “excellent results” for the state.
“I handed (Landry) a stellar office,” he said. “I have absolutely no regrets.”
He said he cooperated with Landry during the transition and wishes him well.
“If he wants to talk bad about me, that’s his prerogative.”
Landry, who defeated Caldwell in November’s election, frequently criticized his predecessor during the campaign for steering lucrative contract work to his political supporters. Landry said other contracts with outside attorneys may be cancelled as his office continues to review what it inherited.
“What we’ve seen is that there has been a pattern of abuse inside of this office, which is what we’re trying to ferret out,” Landry said.
Caldwell’s office had contracts with about a dozen law firms or attorneys to represent the state’s claims over BP’s massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Landry said attorneys in his office’s environmental section will handle work related to BP’s spill.
In July 2015, before Caldwell left office, BP reached an $18.7 billion settlement agreement with the federal government and five Gulf states, including Louisiana, over spill-related environmental damage.
Caldwell picked the lawyers to represent Louisiana’s BP claims under a state law that allows contracts for professional services to be awarded without a competitive process. Allan Kanner, one of those attorneys, said he is proud of their role in securing last year’s record-setting settlement.
“I think the state got a good deal,” he said.