Less than two months after taking office, Attorney General Jeff Landry is wasting no time declaring that there is a new sheriff in town.
Landry ran on a reform agenda, which led to a resounding defeat of the former two-term incumbent attorney general. Now he is moving quickly to make good on his campaign promise to end the corruption that had taken root in the state’s Department of Justice under his predecessor.
Cronyism and backroom deals in the Attorney General’s Office have been a concern of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch for a long time. In 2013, LLAW partnered with the The Hayride and WWL TV to launch a series of investigations that exposed former AG James “Buddy” Caldwell’s practice of awarding highly lucrative no-bid legal contracts to his top campaign contributors. Under the scheme, which became known as the “Buddy System,” politically connected law firms made more than $54 million off of state legal contracts awarded by Caldwell.
In February 2016, Attorney General Landry put an end to many of those “good old boy” deals, cancelling dozens of legal contracts that benefited two of Caldwell’s top campaign contributors and nearly 50 contracts with the private law firms of district attorneys around the state.
Landry also announced a new policy that prohibits attorneys on his staff from doing private legal work on the side, a step that will help avoid even the perception of impropriety.
Clearly these concrete reforms took tremendous guts and political fortitude to make, and we join many people across Louisiana who are applauding Attorney General Landry for making them. The apparent pay-for-play system that flourished under his predecessor left a stain on the integrity of the Attorney General’s Office and unquestionably contributed to our state’s reputation as a “judicial hellhole.”
Without a doubt, these changes will help to improve that negative perception, and they go a long way toward correcting some of the sins of the past.
It is also encouraging that Attorney General Landry acknowledges there is more work to be done. After announcing a slew of new good government policies last month, Landry said, “Reform at the Department of Justice does not end today. We will continue to find ways to make the office an honest, ethical, and hardworking agency that the citizens of our State can rely upon and be proud of.”
Indeed, we couldn’t agree more. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general has a sworn duty to protect and serve the people of Louisiana. The people he hires to help carry out that duty should be selected based on their experience and expertise—not their personal and political connections.
Given AG Landry’s commitment to ending the “Buddy System,” we fully expect that will be the case.
Melissa Landry (no relation) is executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), the state’s leading grassroots legal watchdog organization. To learn more visit, www.LLAW.org.