We Have A Modern-Day Augustine Of Hippo As Louisiana’s Attorney General

Augustine of Hippo, perhaps better known as St. Augustine, is known for the famous quote about his mentality as a young man, “Give me chastity and continence, but do not give it yet.”

Buddy Caldwell, Louisiana’s attorney general, is not a young man. But he seems to share Augustine’s ancient attitude.

Our readers may have seen Rep. Stuart Bishop’s guest post in these pages yesterday about HB 799, a bill which would require Caldwell’s office to abide by some rules on transparency before it can engage in what seems to be its favorite pursuit; namely, the hiring of outside attorneys to process lawsuits against private businesses.

We’re told Caldwell approached Bishop about his bill, which will be heard today in the Senate Judiciary “A” Committee, asking for an amendment.

Caldwell’s appeal went something like this: “I’m not opposed to all this transparency and good government stuff. I like all that stuff. But let’s delay the implementation of your bill for a year.”

Give me transparency and good government, but do not give it yet.

This is Louisiana’s attorney general. We like to think things are better in this state, that political corruption and racketeering is on the wane, but when guys like Caldwell show their faces we recognize that just because the shady characters have “R’s” next to their names instead of “D’s,” the problems remain.

In Caldwell’s case, the “D” hasn’t even really worn off. His claim to fame is that he’s not as bent as Charles Foti was.

But some of what Caldwell is up to – as we’ve documented, the Buddy System whereby he’s shoveling legal contracts to his campaign contributors and engaging in illegal contingency-fee contracts to sue people on behalf of the state – isn’t just a character flaw on the part of an elected official. Some of it is structural. Louisiana gives the attorney general a few jobs to do, and suing people is among the most prominent of those.

What’s interesting is that investigating and prosecuting local government corruption isn’t one of them. The AG’s office can only get involved in such activities if the local district attorney recuses himself.

Which never happens. And as such, there is little or no effective investigation or prosecution of local government corruption under state law in Louisiana. To get any of that, you’ve got to rely on the feds. In other words, the Obama administration.

It would be a nice bit of reform for someone to bring a bill – it’s too late to bring one this year, but next year it wouldn’t be a bad idea for someone to bring it – which gives the AG’s office the power to investigate and prosecute local corruption absent the request or recusal of local DA’s (many of whom are in the same courthouse mob from which the corruption would spring).

We can wait another year for that bill. Perhaps Caldwell will have more time to ponder the works of St. Augustine, and things like transparency and good government, after the 2015 elections when someone else is Louisiana’s attorney general.

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