Louisiana Attorney General accused of illegally allowing historic lawsuit against oil companies

By Louisiana Record reports | Dec 16, 2013

BATON ROUGE –Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell has been named in a lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association for allowing a New Orleans area flood board to pursue a massive lawsuit against oil, energy and pipeline companies who are accused of damaging the state’s coast.

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) filed suit against Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell in the 19th Judicial District Court on Dec. 16 for Caldwell’s approval of a contingency fee contract between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) and attorneys representing the board in a lawsuit against 97 oil and energy companies over coastal erosion.

LOGA claims the SLFPA-E is unconstitutional.

Don Briggs, LOGA president, said they believe the contract between the SLFPA-E and the attorneys working on their behalf is a violation of law.

“The Attorney General acted outside his authority in allowing the board to hire these attorneys. The resolution is vague and does not provide sufficient information to establish a ‘real necessity’ for the hire. Finally, the Constitution requires that any funds from such a judgment must be received by the state treasury, not the board itself,” Briggs said. “This lawsuit attempts to correct those violations of law and reverse the Attorney General’s approval of that resolution.”

The SLFPA-E lawsuit in question connects canals dredged in the wetlands as part of oil exploration and drilling operations to land loss and saltwater intrusion that has exposed the New Orleans area to hurricanes and flooding. Under the lawsuit, repairs to local wetlands estimated to worth billions of dollars in damages.

The contract allowed by Caldwell allows SLFPA-E to pay the law firm representing them, Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison LLC, 32.5 percent to 22.5 percent of damages recovered in the lawsuit.

Because SLFPA-E is a subdivision of the state, LOGA argues that Caldwell’s office should have assessed their own ability to take on representation of before allowing appointing counsel to take over on a contingency basis and not allowing SLFPA-E to choose their own representation.

“Our members collectively believe that, as the state’s head lawyer, Attorney General Caldwell is responsible for directly hiring and compensating special counsel, rendering his signoff of hiring and compensating counsel by the SLFPA-E board improper,” Briggs said. “Caldwell acted outside his authority in approving the resolution. The law expressly names the Attorney General as counsel for that specific levee board, and the Legislature has never granted any authority to the board to hire its own counsel.”

Caldwell’s reliance on contingency fee attorneys has been noted in the past, especially in the state’s pursuit of damages from BP over the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. It was revealed earlier this that Caldwell had spent $15.4 million in fees for lawyers working under contingency terms while during the same time span Alabama’s Attorney General’s Office had only spent $200,000 handling similar litigation.

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