Democrat endorses Republican challenger in attorney general’s race _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Garyville lawyer Geri Broussard Baloney, who polled more votes than any other Democratic candidate in the race for Attorney General, threw her support Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, behind former Congressman Jeff Landry, the Republican challenger in the Nov. 21 general election. Incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is seeking his third term as the state's chief legal officer.

In November, nine days after a hotly contested primary for Louisiana attorney general, challenger Jeff Landry secured the coveted endorsement of the third-place finisher in the race, Geri Broussard Baloney, for the runoff.

It was a coup for Landry, a Republican from the GOP’s tea party wing. Baloney, a black Democrat, had hauled in 18 percent of the vote, more than the No. 4 and 5 finishers combined.

If her supporters all voted for Landry, who took 33 percent, it would be enough to put him over the top and dethrone the incumbent, Buddy Caldwell, a fellow Republican who took 35 percent of the primary vote.

As it happens, that’s how it went down; Landry won going away. And a couple of months after taking office, Landry hired Baloney’s daughter, Quendi, looking past her criminal record in doing so and giving her a position in the office’s fraud section at a salary of $53,000 a year.

Ironically, Quendi Baloney had been charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft in 1999. She wound up pleading guilty to three of them, according to Henrico County, Virginia, court records.

She received a six-year prison sentence, all of it suspended, meaning she would serve time only if she committed another crime.

At the time Quendi Baloney was hired, all would-be employees of the AG’s Office were required to sign a form agreeing to a background check. They also were asked directly, in writing, whether they had any criminal record.

The Advocate asked the AG’s Office to provide Baloney’s forms. But last week, Shannon Dirmann, an assistant attorney general, said in a letter to the newspaper that the records are “confidential personnel documents protected by the constitutional right to privacy and therefore not subject to production.”

The office has stood by that position, but on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Landry said that Baloney had been forthright about her criminal record when she sought the job.

Caldwell said in a recent interview that neither he nor any of his predecessors would have considered hiring someone with a felony record.

“It was in the written policy manual that you did not hire convicted felons,” Caldwell said. “You can’t have that kind of political patronage in the Attorney General’s Office. We’re a law office, not a political office.

“We handle the legal work of the state. You do not want convicted felons having anything to do with the law.”

Asked whether his hiring of Quendi Baloney was related in any way to the endorsement he received from her mother, Landry opted to take a potshot at Gov. John Bel Edwards, with whom he has often tangled.

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“I can only assume the media’s interest in falsely impugning my integrity, and that of Geri Baloney, is to distract from John Bel Edwards’ political payback hiring of Jay Dardenne following Dardenne’s endorsement of Edwards, which resulted in Dardenne cashing in with a huge salary boost, doubling his pay funded by the taxpayers, and dramatically increasing his likely pension take by hundreds of thousands of dollars in the middle of a state financial crisis," Landry said in a prepared statement.

Landry's reference was to the governor's hiring of Dardenne, one of Edwards' three main opponents in last year's gubernatorial primary, as commissioner of administration after Dardenne, a Republican, crossed party lines to endorse Edwards in the runoff against U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

Geri Broussard Baloney, meanwhile, forcefully denied that she and Landry ever discussed her daughter’s employment.

“My daughter working for the attorney general was the furthest thing from my mind when I made the endorsement,” she said. “It wasn’t even a thought.”

In a letter to The Advocate, Quendi Baloney described her mother’s endorsement of Landry as a family decision, one that the Baloneys agreed on after meeting with Landry as a group.

“We chose to support him because of his desire to actually transform and change the way the Attorney General’s Office does business,” she wrote.

Geri Baloney said that “sometime after Jeff was elected,” her daughter mentioned she was thinking about applying for a job there. According to her resumé, Quendi Baloney earned a law degree in 2008 and had been working at her mother’s law firm since 2009.

Quendi Baloney bristled at questions about her record. She said in her letter that she believed the 1999 episode, which she called “devastating,” made her “a stronger, harder working ethical adult with much more to share with my family, my employer and our community as a whole.”

Ruth Wisher, the Landry spokeswoman, did not answer questions about whether other candidates applied for the job, or whether Landry had hired any other felons.

She forwarded a reporter a link to a recent Advocate story about the state’s new “Ban the Box” law, which prevents state agencies from asking would-be employees about their criminal records on job applications.

The law, which is intended to make it easier for ex-cons to gain employment, went into effect after Quendi Baloney’s hiring.

Caldwell noted that the new law does not bar employers from asking applicants about their rap sheets during interviews, or from conducting criminal background checks on them. He thinks the AG’s Office should continue to take a hard line on hiring people convicted of crimes.

“All the law says is that they don’t have to put it on their application,” Caldwell said of job-seekers. “But you’re perfectly able to not hire 'em.”

Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @GordonRussell1.