I applaud your recent editorial, “Good ol' boy government wins again,” (September 6, 2016).
As the lead sponsor of two reform bills that put new safeguards on the hiring, oversight and payment of private attorneys by state offices, I am very familiar with the laws that dictate when outside legal counsel can be brought into public litigation and how much they can be paid.
HB 799, which was passed by a bipartisan majority of the Louisiana Legislature in 2014, codified a longstanding Louisiana Supreme Court opinion barring the use of contingency fee contracts by state departments and set reasonable limits on attorneys’ fees.
I am concerned the legal contract authorized by the Governor’s Office to enroll private plaintiff lawyers in coastal lawsuits appears to violate these provisions of state law, and I support Attorney General Jeff Landry’s decision to reject the contract on those grounds.
Under the proposed contract, the governor’s legal team would be allowed to charge the state hourly rates and, in the event of a settlement, award or judgment, they would also be allowed to negotiate additional fees for themselves up to “the maximum amount.”
This kind of fee-shifting arrangement clearly violates the spirit and the letter of the reforms I sponsored and state lawmakers passed just two years ago. In fact, it is nearly identical to those that were used by former Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell to create big windfalls for his cronies. Under the previous scheme, which became known as the “Buddy System,” politically connected law firms made more than $54 million off of state legal contracts awarded by Caldwell.
I am hopeful that the inclusion of new fee-shifting language in the contract for legal services initiated by the Governor’s Office was simply an oversight. Anytime state officials engage outside legal counsel in public litigation, they owe it to the taxpayers to be clear and transparent about why they are doing it and how much it is likely to cost.
Stuart J. Bishop