AG’s Record Questionable – At Best – on Contingency Fees

buddy caldwell looks leftI recently read with great interest Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s commentary touting his commitment to the “longstanding Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling in Meredith v. Ieyoub, in which the court held the state of Louisiana is prohibited from issuing contingency fee contracts.”

In the precedent-setting Meredith v Ieyoub, the high court ruled that the Attorney General has no authority to engage contingency-fee lawyers on the state’s behalf.

While it is encouraging that AG Caldwell acknowledges he is at least aware of the high court’s decision on this issue, his record is questionable – at best – on the use of contingency fee contracts.

State contingency fee contracts refers to a system of hiring outside plaintiffs’ attorneys to pursue the state’s legal business, and it appears the Attorney General had entered into several of them.

Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch closely reviewed documents obtained by Public Records Act request earlier this year, which revealed AG Caldwell is contracting out much of the state’s legal business to a small group of politically connected trial lawyers.  We found at least 13 firms that received lucrative contracts – and the firms contributed more than $250,000 to Caldwell’s political campaigns.

In some instances, rather than paying the private attorneys a reasonable fee based on their hours of work on the case, he appears to have promised them a percentage of the state’s award through contingency-fee-type arrangements.

One example includes outside lawyers representing the state in complex litigation against more than100 drug manufacturers where a clear pattern has emerged.  It seems every time a case is settled, the lawyers reap 20 percent of the state’s award.

When confronted by WWL TV earlier this year, Caldwell said he found a way to “work around” the Supreme Court decision and allow outside lawyers to negotiate fees in a way that doesn’t violate the law, but Caldwell’s position is clearly contradicted by the state’s own Office of Contractual Review, which specifically noted on the approval of one of these deals that it was a “conting fee.”

It is troubling to have to ask why the state’s chief legal officer would enter into contracts that seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

All of this is well documented and publically available on WWLTV.com,  TheHayride.com and LLAW.org.  Please consider the facts and decide for yourself.

Melissa Landry is executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit, citizen watchdog group focused on a broad range of civil justice issues in Louisiana.

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