T. Taylor Townsend

Governor John Bel Edwards’ attempt to hire his top political supporters to represent the state in litigation that could generate billions in legal fees is unconscionable.

Like all elected officials, Governor Edwards has a sworn duty to protect and serve the people of Louisiana. The individuals, businesses and law firms he hires to help carry out that duty should be selected based on their experience and expertise — not their political connections. And when private lawyers are brought into public litigation, they should be paid reasonable rates based on their hours of public service — not absurd legal fees that some attorneys charge their clients in private practice.

The facts uncovered by The Advocate/ WWL-TV investigation make clear that the legal contracts recently initiated by the Governor’s Office do not meet these basic standards. It is not unreasonable for the people to expect more from their governor, who promised to live and serve by the “honor code.”

But this is not just a perception problem for Gov. Edwards. The unprecedented breadth of the proposed contracts leads to a slew of legal and ethical questions that need to be addressed. Under the contracts, Gov. Edwards authorized his hand-picked team of private lawyers to represent nearly half of all state departments including: the Governor’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Division of Administration, Division of Revenue, and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Is it really in the public’s best interest for Gov. Edwards to outsource the legal authority of so many state departments to private lawyers whose financial interests may be at odds with those of the state?

Another major issue with the contracts is the inclusion of fee shifting provisions, which seems to violate state law regarding payments to private lawyers. In addition to being paid hourly rates, the controversial fee shifting provision could allow private lawyers to reap billions in legal fees off of the state’s case. How is that in the public’s best interest?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have witnessed the outsourcing of state litigation to well-connected private lawyers thru lucrative and legally questionable contracts. This scheme is oddly reminiscent of the “Buddy System” of cronyism and back room deal making that flourished under former Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. The only difference is that this scheme is more blatant, and it flies in the face of major reforms passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2014.

That legislation was enacted to bring an end to the “Buddy System,” but clearly there’s more work to be done.

MELISSA LANDRY

Executive Director, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch

Baton Rouge