A public tussle between Louisiana's governor and attorney general played out in a Baton Rouge courthouse on Friday as they argued over who has ultimate authority in legal issues involving the state.
The Louisiana Department of Health, with Gov. John Bel Edwards's backing, has sued multiple pharmaceutical companies it holds liable for the state's opioid crisis but Attorney General Jeff Landry has moved to take over the suit.
Louisiana Attorney General moved late Monday to take control of the Edwards’ administration lawsuit claiming pharmaceutical companies are resp…
The two sides argued in 19th Judicial District Court Friday over whether the attorney general has authority to represent the health department. Judge Wilson Fields said he would consider their points and make a ruling Feb. 20.
Afterward, both sides accused the other of political posturing.
"This is one of the most disappointing days for anyone affected by the opioid epidemic," Landry said.
All over the country, attorneys general are leading court battles with drug companies, and Edwards needs to quit trying to be both the governor and attorney general, Landry said.
Matthew Block, the governor's executive counsel who is representing the Department of Health, fired back. He said Friday's proceedings showed an attorney general's office eager to take on a case even when the client doesn't want them to.
Block accused Landry of refusing to work with state departments and agencies — a claim Landry denied — and said the suit is another example of the divide between the governor's mansion and the attorney general's office.
"Of course it's a symptom of a larger political issue," he said.
Edwards and Landry have clashed on immigration, state finances, transgender rights and other issues during their concurrent time in office.
Fields was asked on Friday to consider whether the attorney general's office has the authority to step in when a Louisiana agency or department litigates.
Louisiana joined a growing list of state and local governments Wednesday by taking legal action claiming drug manufacturers purposely escalate…
Block argued that the department was acting independently for the good of the public and could choose its own counsel. Assistant attorney general Stacie deBlieux countered that the department is state-funded and acts as an agent of the state government, meaning her office is tasked with representing them, or at least with appointing an outside lawyer to represent them.
Fields asked if the Department of Health suit was somehow impeding the Attorney General's office from pursuing its own lawsuit.
DeBlieux said they could still go after the pharmaceutical companies, because the current suit doesn't consider costs to other state departments, such as public safety and corrections. However, she said, splitting the job up will be costly and lead to duplication of effort.
"This is not going to be a walk in the park. These are a lot of defendants with deep pockets who are going to fight this," deBlieux said.
Block agreed that Landry is free to file his own lawsuit. However, he said, Landry has shown himself unwilling to work with state departments on their efforts, so the Department of Health has forged ahead on its own. The court should allow them to continue because they have a right to file the suit and have been acting in the public interest, Block argued.
"We will proceed with this case with or without the Attorney General's office," he said.