Lawyer fees spark political argument
Story written by John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com
The question of how lawyers should be paid for representing governmental bodies has sparked a public argument between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and former Congressman Jeff Landry, an exchange that’s beginning to show signs of turning into an election battle in 2015.
The two men first clashed over Caldwell’s approval of a contingency fee agreement that allowed the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East to hire a law firm to sue 97 oil and gas companies for damaging coastal marshes over decades of energy production.
Contingency fee contracts essentially require no money down and payments for legal services are based on a percentage of what the plaintiffs are awarded.
Landry again criticized Caldwell this week via a news release when the attorney general invited some his critics, including Landry, to weigh in on another contingency fee contract.
This time it involves a law firm that’s representing a school board and teachers union in a $200 million class action lawsuit filed against the state for under-funding public education.
“I invite and urge you to meet with me as soon as possible to express your opinions and views on this subject,” Caldwell wrote in a letter dated Oct. 7 and since obtained by LaPolitics.
Of the six parties invited, which included two of the state’s major business lobbies, only Landry responded publicly.
“If Mr. Caldwell is unsure as to what he should do, I encourage him to step aside and I will be happy to enter his office and make the right decisions on behalf of the people of Louisiana,” said Landry, who has expressed interest in running for attorney general.
Caldwell also invited representatives of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry; the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch; the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association; and the Jones Walker law firm. None accepted the invitation.
“We’re not going,” said Gifford Briggs of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. “I’m not sure what this is all about.”
The lead plaintiff in the case is the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, which is joined by other school boards that allege the state owes them for three years of the unfunded “growth factor” in the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP.
The Legislature customarily includes a 2.75 percent growth factor in the MFP each year, but it stopped doing so in 2011-12.
The school board wants to retain the Kean Miller law firm of Baton Rouge on a contingency fee basis of 10 percent for any award or settlement obtained. A Kean Miller lawyer also was invited to the confab in Caldwell’s office.
Caldwell and Landry previously exchanged hostilities over the contingency fee contract between the flood control authority and the Gladstone Jones law firm of New Orleans, which would be paid 22.5 percent of the first $300 million awarded and 32.5 percent after that.
The next flare-up between the two likely could come when Caldwell responds to a legal petition by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association asking that he rescind his approval of the contract for the coastal damage lawsuit, which could leave the flood control authority unable to afford the case.
Caldwell declined an interview with LaPolitics.
Legislative staffs got raises, too
Just days after public employees at six state agencies received their pay raises, legislative officials told LaPolitics last week that most of the staff for the House and Senate has received salary adjustments as well.
Brenda Hodge, Senate communications officer, said the increases took effect Sept. 1. In the Senate, the adjustment is 4 percent for full-time employees in good standing who have been on the job prior to 2013.
She said it has been four and half years since legislative staffers received any change in salary.
On the House side, employees have received a pay increase between 2 percent and 4 percent, but only those who have worked in the lower chamber for more than 12 months, according to Glen Duncan, director of the House communications office.
This comes on top of news that the Department of Corrections will institute $5 million worth of raises in February. Additionally, the following agencies implemented increases last week:
• Department of Environmental Quality, $1.2 million
• Department of Children and Family Services, $6.1 million
• Department of Transportation and Development, $7 million
• Division of Administration, $2.4 million
• Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, $28,000
• Louisiana Workforce Commission, $2.5 million
The salary adjustments follow a tumultuous regular session where deep reductions to the budget were doled out, forcing cuts to higher ed, health care and other critical services.
Consultant now in front of camera
Move over, Edwin Edwards. Democratic consultant Michael Beychok, along with a small cast of others, has landed a reality show with Esquire Network, a new cable channel from NBCUniversal. It has a working title of “Horseplayers.”
Beychok, a Baton Rouge native, grabbed national headlines last year by showing he was as good at handicapping politics as he was horses by winning the $1 million first-place prize from the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas .
So far, he and a cast of others have sold 10 episodes of the show, which begins airing on the network in January. “The whole crux of the show is a bunch of guys traveling around to different tracks gambling and trying to win a lot of money,” he said.
For Beychok, who does a good deal of work on congressional campaigns outside Louisiana , it has already become an overwhelming experience.
“My whole background with TV has been 30 second commercials,” he said. “Now I’m showing up and seeing two trucks, five cameras and a large crew and I’ve got very little control.”
They Said It
“I am indeed laying the foundation.”
— Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat, on her plans to run for mayor of Baton Rouge
“I’m used to being beat up on.”
— Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who fell under fire in the national press recently for his anti-gay stances after announcing he was considering running for the 6th Congressional District
Find more information about John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford at www.LaPolitics.com or follow them on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.