BATON ROUGE – Louisiana’s attorney general recently brought the hammer down on several no-bid state legal contracts put in place by his predecessor.
AG Jeff Landry canceled dozens of lucrative contracts with former AG James “Buddy” Caldwell’s top campaign supporters, including Caldwell’s campaign manager T. Allen Usry and campaign treasurer E. Wade Shows.
Also canceled were 41 contracts worth $1.3 million that went to the law firm Connick and Connick, the family firm of Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick. Connick endorsed Caldwell in his campaign against Landry.
“Attorney General Landry’s decision to end many of the backroom deals initiated by his predecessor marks a significant step toward restoring integrity and high ethical standards back to the state’s top legal office,” Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), recently told the Louisiana Record.
In 2013, LLAW teamed up with The Hayride, a political blog; and WWL-TV in New Orleans to investigate Caldwell’s practice of awarding no-bid legal contracts to top campaign contributors. Because of that practice, which became known as the “Buddy System,” Caldwell’s handpicked law firms made more than $54 million off of state legal contracts.
The swift flushing of that system has not gone unnoticed by the legal community of Louisiana.
“After running on a reform agenda, AG Landry is moving quickly to make good on his campaign promise to end the cronyism and corruption that had taken root in the state’s Department of Justice under his predecessor,” Melissa Landry, who is not related to Jeff Landry, said.
The attorney general has stated that his decision to cancel the contracts is strictly for their optics, and he has not accused Caldwell or the attorneys of breaking any laws.
The next step for the attorney general’s office is to fill the void left by the mass cancellations.
“Caldwell awarded 11 contracts to outside law firms to manage the state’s oil spill litigation, which paid exorbitant rates as high as $600 an hour,” Melissa Landry said. “Those contracts have been canceled, and the remaining legal work to finalize the state’s $18.7 billion settlement with BP will be handled by staff attorneys in the AG’s office.”
Jeff Landry has announced his intention to examine practices in other states to develop a selection process for hiring outside attorneys.
He also announced a new policy that prohibits attorneys on his staff from doing private legal work supplemental to their state work, with the exception of finishing cases already in progress.
Melissa Landry says that the habits under Caldwell only made the state’s notorious reputation in the legal system worse, and Jeff Landry’s clean-up is just what Louisiana needs.
“The pay-for-play system that flourished under [Caldwell] left a stain on the integrity of the Attorney General’s Office and unquestionably contributed to the reputation of our state as a ‘judicial hellhole,’” she said. “This announcement is good news for the hardworking people of Louisiana. These common-sense reforms are long overdue, and we applaud Attorney General Landry for making them.”