In the face of the worst environmental disaster in American history lapping at Louisianas fragile coastline, Gov. Bobby Jindals administration has been working feverishly trying to hire expensive, out-of-state lawyers to represent the state against BP in court.
Sources familiar with the administrations efforts say that Team Jindal at one point proposed hiring a pair of non-Louisiana law firms, one of which typically represents large corporate clients, to sue BP on behalf of the state. That, even though many of the nations top environmental plaintiff lawyers live right here in Louisiana.
Our sources say state Attorney General Buddy Caldwells office has opposed Team Jindals efforts, and so far the AG has at least been able to hold up the administrations plan. Caldwell instead has retained a team of Louisiana plaintiff attorneys with much more experience suing polluters. To its credit, the Division of Administration, which reports to Jindal, has signed off on the AGs contracts with outside attorneys. This is typically a perfunctory administrative function, but in this case the review and approval were expedited at Caldwells request.
But Team Jindal has persisted in its efforts to hire additional, non-Louisiana law firms. Advisers to Jindal and Caldwell have been meeting regularly trying to resolve the impasse, but as of Friday afternoon there was little progress to report.
There are several things wrong with the administrations approach:
First, Jindal is the governor, not the AG. The Louisiana constitution makes Caldwell, not Jindal, the states top legal officer. The authority to hire outside counsel to represent the people of Louisiana thus is vested in Caldwell, and the AG already has signed up some of the best legal talent available. New Orleans lawyer Allan Kanner, who has a national reputation as an environmental plaintiff attorney, is Caldwells choice to lead the states effort provided Jindal frees up enough money to let Kanner et al. do the job.
Ah, theres the rub.
Second, local plaintiff attorneys have much more experience and expertise at suing people like BP than your typical out-of-state firm. Kanners environmental litigation experience, for example, goes all the way back to Three Mile Island. Other local attorneys Caldwell has hired have decades of experience each. This is not a close call.
Third, how can Jindal justify hiring out-of-state law firms to represent Louisiana citizens in this matter, knowing that those firms ultimately will take millions of dollars in fees back home and spend that money elsewhere, at a time when hes cutting millions himself from state colleges, universities, hospitals and other programs and services? What is this administration thinking?
Fourth, if the governor wants to hire his own legal counsel to keep him in the loop, he has every right to do that. But, he should pay those lawyers out of his executive budget and not try to make his lawyers part of the states legal front line.
Finally, hiring an out-of-state firm, particularly a large firm, incurs the risk that the firm will have corporate clients whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the state in this matter. What would happen when (not if) the state advances a legal theory that could set an anti-business precedent? Does anybody think those corporate clients would sit idly by? The potential conflicts of interest are numerous and entirely foreseeable.
With so much stacked against the Team Jindal approach, why would the governor even think about trying to get involved in the selection of outside legal counsel particularly non-Louisiana legal counsel?
The governor likes to pride himself on his laser-like focus. Going forward, his administration should focus more on doing the job Jindal was elected to do and less on trying to do Caldwells job.
Team Jindal Responds
Jindal press secretary Kyle Plotkin issued the following statement on behalf of the governor in regard to this issue:
First, were going to be very aggressive in our efforts to protect our state and people. Theres no amount of money that BP can pay to make up for the harm they have caused our coast, but were absolutely going to do everything we can to make sure our people can be made whole again.
Secondly, the trustee agencies have a very important role in the NRDA process.
Third, the AG is obviously the lead agency for litigation and we are working very closely with their office to get the absolute best people to represent our state. The AG is part of our Unified Command Group and were not going to do anything until there is agreement between the AG and the trustee agencies.