Private Attorneys Hired By AG in Quasi-Criminal Proceedings Raises Serious Questions

Recent Baton Rouge Advocate and Associated Press stories reveal a highly questionable relationships among private attorneys and the Attorney General who hired them on behalf of the state.

According to the reports, the developers of Avandia, a popular treatment for Type 2 diabetes, have filed suit against Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell seeking to end what it described as an unlawful fee agreement.

The suit was also highlighted in a recent Judicial Hellholes blog by the American Tort Reform Association.

In the legal proceedings, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) alleges the contingency fee agreement Caldwell has with the private attorneys to purse a lawsuit against them violates the state Constitution and the company’s constitutional rights.

In its lawsuit filed in state court in Baton Rouge, the company contends, “GlaxoSmithKline has a legal right to face law-enforcement decisions that are not structurally tainted by substantial financial incentives for the prosecutors to seek and exact substantial penalties.”

The relationships underlying the drug maker’s lawsuit raises an issue that ought to alarm citizens who value our representative democracy.  Regardless of the merits of GSK’s legal argument, the cozy affiliations among  Attorney General Caldwell and the private attorneys he’s hired on a contingency fee basis to represent the state in this high-profile case suggests there are strong forces at work here other than the public interest.

Several of the lawyers in these private law firms have contributed more than $60,000 to Caldwell, and at least two of them have held leadership roles in his campaign. These relationships give the appearance of impropriety and potentially a “pay-to-play” scandal in the making.

While our state has made strides in strengthening ethics rules for public officials in recent years, when situations such as this come to light, we are reminded that we still have a long way to go.

Even under the best of circumstances, personal injury lawyers working for the state under contingency fee agreements have only one incentive:  a conviction means money and no conviction means no money. For these attorneys there is no motivation to consider what’s in the public’s best interest, in stark contrast to the Attorney General, who, as a public official, is sworn to protect the interests of our state. That’s just wrong.

If there is merit to the Attorney General’s case, taxpayers deserve a better enforcement structure than a group of politically connected private attorneys working to benefit their own monetary interests, seemingly without regard for what is best for the state and its citizens.

Melissa Landry is Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit citizens’ watchdog group that’s dedicated to raising awareness about the negative impact of lawsuit abuse and its costs to Louisiana workers, consumers, taxpayers and small businesses.  Learn more at www.LLAW.org.



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