Caldwell Causes Flareup Of ‘Buddy System’ Accusations With Latest Mess

Comes today a press release out of Jeff Landry’s camp, that many will interpret as all but an announcement the former congressman will be running for Attorney General in 2015…

Today well known conservative Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s former Congressman, is responding to a letter he and others received from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell dated October 7, 2013.

In the letter Mr. Caldwell attempts to play a political game with the public’s money and trust.

The letter requests a meeting tomorrow with several officials including Jeff Landry, job creating organizations and those concerned with lawsuit abuse.  Mr. Caldwell claims to want to meet with these people, including Landry, to hear their concerns over contingency fee contracts which have allowed lawyers, in some cases tied to Caldwell, to reap huge sums of money off handing lawsuits filed against government.    Recently Landry wrote about Caldwell’s rewarding of political friends in this column entitled The Buddy System:  https://thehayride.com/2013/09/landry-the-buddy-system-shows-up-in-that-levee-board-lawsuit/

Buddy Caldwell’s propensity to reward political friends with big legal contracts was the subject of this WWL TV investigative TV report:  http://www.wwltv.com/news/eyewitness/davidhammer/Attorney-General-called-out-208249341.html

To date no one has agreed to meet with Mr. Caldwell.  Those listed on the letter:  Stephen Waguespack of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, former Congressman Landry, Melissa Landry of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, Don Briggs of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and others have concerns over Mr. Caldwell’s decision asking them to a meeting on a legal matter where as Attorney General Caldwell could eventually be responsible for defending the state.

Therefore the very meeting, and Caldwell’s choice to discuss the matter publicly, raises the question of a conflict of interest for Mr. Caldwell in discussing a potential pending case in which he may be involved.  Also, his involvement in making a decision to approve a continguency contract in the case – required under the law – not only further raises that conflict of interest but outsources public policy decisions to the court inviting expensive lawsuits into public policy decisions.

In response to the letter, Jeff Landry is responding with the following statement:

“Mr. Caldwell seems destined to use his political letterhead and his office for personal political gain and gamesmanship.  I, along with others named in the letter, will not sit down with Mr. Caldwell and participate in a political side show that places him, and therefore our State’s Attorney General office, in a conflict of interest.

In his letter Mr. Caldwell seems to indicate that he wants our input on whether he should allow another expensive contingency fee contract, the very subject of the recent WWL investigative report calling his decisions and integrity into question.  Mr. Caldwell seems to want to discuss a case in which he would be involved, therefore creating a conflict of interest.  Under the guise of seeking input, we will not be part of this conflict of interest.

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.”

To view a copy of Caldwell’s letter, go here:  https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3760255/CaldwellLettertoLandry.pdf

Jeff Landry is a lifelong Republican and Louisiana’s former 3rd District Congressman who built a reputation for reducing his office’s expenses and returning that money to the taxpayers.  Buddy Caldwell is a lifelong Democrat who recently switched parties.

The St. John School Board case is a suit filed back in early July seeking an increase in funding under the Minimum Foundation Program for a number of school boards around the state, to the tune of some $200 million. It’s complicated, but it has to do with the state’s creation of a school voucher program and the resulting changes to the MFP.

That’s an issue in itself, but the thing you have to understand is that the St. John lawsuit was a class action – and the school board there was joined as a plaintiff by the Louisiana Association of Educators. The lead attorney on the case is one Brian Blackwell; if his name sounds vaguely familiar to you it’s because Brian Blackwell was the lawyer for the LAE who sent out the nasty letters to private schools agreeing to accept students under the state’s voucher program, threatening to sue them if they accepted any voucher money.

That gambit on the part of Blackwell and the LAE didn’t go anywhere, so this is the latest round.

And what Blackwell did was to get a number of school boards around the state to sign on, so now he’s got himself a big lawsuit and a tiger by the tail. Because there’s a whole lot of attorneys’ fees to be generated in a suit of this size – but also a whole lot of work to be done. And Blackwell’s shop is a tiny operation; he needs some wide shoulders to ride on. That’s why he wants Kean Miller.

But here’s the thing – nobody really thinks this lawsuit is going to go anywhere, so the school boards – and particularly the teachers’ union – don’t want to commit to it if they have to pay their lawyers by the hour. It’ll cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t have to try to prosecute the suit, and they’ll likely lose. So instead, they got the great idea to try to hire lawyers on contingency – like you’d do if you slipped and fell at the local Winn-Dixie.

But hiring lawyers on contingency is prohibited under Louisiana law except for a very small number of cases which don’t include suing the state because the legislature didn’t appropriate as much money to your local school board as you’d like.

Buddy Caldwell knows this. And Caldwell also knows that as the Attorney General his job is to tell the St. John School Board to go pee up a rope; that if they want to hire Kean Miller they’re certainly welcome to do so, but according to state law they’ll have to pay Kean Miller’s hourly rate, which is not cheap, and hope they win the suit so a judge can award them attorney’s fees.

Except this is where politics kicks in, because Caldwell has – as we’ve documented several times here on the site – bitten at the contingency fee apple a few times before in violation of state law. Our friend Melissa Landry (who is not, by the way, related to Jeff; Landry is Melissa’s married name and her husband Brian isn’t related to Jeff either) has been a regular bulldog on the issue, and her opinion has been shared by Don Briggs at LOGA and the folks at LABI. And Jeff Landry has had some negative opinions on The Buddy System as well.

So before Caldwell does his job and tells the St. John School Board to suck wind on the idea of giving Kean Miller a contingency fee contract, he wants Landry, Landry, Waguespack and Briggs to meet with him and give him political cover for his own contingency fee deals. And that’s why Jeff Landry, who the smart money says will run against Caldwell two years from now, is telling him to stuff that meeting.

Caldwell has himself in a bit of a tight spot here. If he gives in and doesn’t oppose St. John hiring Kean Miller on contingency so that the teachers’ union attorney can muscle up for a nuisance suit against the state, he can forget about getting any Republican support for re-election. But if he blocks the Kean Miller deal, his own contingency fee deals come back to light. Either way, as Landry noted in his press release, there is conflict of interest in the air and to ask for a meeting to get political cover just makes it worse.

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