Gov. Bobby Jindal's top staffers wear many hats not all of them in public when it comes to their professional lives. During this watershed era, when "disclosure" is the unofficial state motto and executive officials are touted as "superstars" by the new Republican governor, that shouldn't be the situation. Nonetheless, holding down a well-hidden side gig is becoming something of a trend in the Jindal Administration.
For instance, Jindal executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth, who supposedly gave up his private law practice to represent and advise the governor, is back in court arguing a case that has absolutely nothing to do with his gubernatorial appointment or the public interest. Additionally, Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine recently wrapped up a consulting contract that he managed to fulfill on top of his state-salaried duties.
This isn't a matter of whether these two men have benefited in some nefarious fashion from their public positions. By all accounts, they're clear on that front. Yet the shared circumstances of their moonlighting habits clearly raise questions as to how seriously they take their public positions. No doubt the governor, lawmakers and general public expect high-ranking public officials to focus solely on their public jobs, to the exclusion of all other employment opportunities.
Moreover, shouldn't all outside work be immediately disclosed to the public?
Although he didn't offer a comment for this story, Jindal apparently believes so, as evidenced by the first executive order he issued after taking office in January. It calls for Cabinet members to disclose all financial dealings but it doesn't take effect until Jan. 15 of the year after their original commission. That lapse in time means many other collateral career moves likely won't come to light until long after the fact. As has been noted recently (Gambit Weekly, "Keeping It Zipped," May 13), that too has become a hallmark of the Jindal Administration.
At least for now, Jindal doesn't seem to be too keen on taking any administrative action against Faircloth or Levine. However, Faircloth's double-dipping has placed the governor in a precarious situation because Jindal made a big deal of forcing his top legal adviser to sever ties with his private practice last December, when Faircloth announced his initial intention to maintain at least some of his law practice on the side while advising the new governor.
One of Faircloth's clients was the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, which operates a casino in Kinder and interacts with the state frequently on Indian gaming issues. "Jimmy can't try to serve two masters," Jindal said at the time, adding that an administration championing ethics reform shouldn't show an inkling of conflict. "We have to show we're going beyond the letter of the law."
Those words may come back to haunt Jindal and Faircloth.
According to documents obtained from the 9th Judicial District Court in Rapides Parish, Faircloth on May 1 enrolled as lead counsel in an ongoing case (Dr. Tommy Granger v. St. Frances Cabrini Hospital). That move conflicts squarely with Jindal's pronouncement in December. In a prepared statement issued through the governor's press secretary last week, Faircloth says the case was first filed in 2003 and was scheduled to be tried in January, just as he accepted Jindal's offer.
He adds that "the Rules of Professional Responsibility prevented me from withdrawing without client consent, and there was not enough time to prepare another attorney even if the client consented. Thus, the client agreed to continue the trial provided that I would re-enroll." The case is now scheduled for November 2008, at which time Faircloth could very well end up arguing the case as a "sole practitioner, not as a member of my former firm."
If the case does go to trial, Faircloth says he would do the work pro bono in his private time. "This arrangement properly balances my ethical obligations as both an attorney and a public servant," he says.
Levine says he worked at his side job as a consultant during personal time as well. When asked during an interview two weeks ago if he views his position as DHH secretary as a 9-to-5 job, Levine answered in the affirmative, explaining that was how he was able to juggle responsibilities. The three-month, $140,000 consulting position, which ran from January to March, was actually an extension of Levine's previous job as the top administrator at the North Broward Hospital District in Florida.
When he accepted Jindal's offer to become secretary and quit the Florida post, he says a severance package of sorts was built into the contract calling for him to serve as a consultant. The transitional help, though, overlapped his first few months at DHH. Asked if Jindal knew about the situation, Levine said, "I doubt it."
In his own written statement, again issued by Jindal's press secretary last week, Levine argued that calling his three-month arrangement a "consultant" contract was incorrect. "It is not appropriate to characterize my separation agreement as anything but that a separation agreement," he says. "I did what any responsible CEO would do to ensure a proper transition of a public enterprise. I simply made myself available."
"Additionally, Broward Health has no business in the state of Louisiana, is a public, government-owned entity, all these decisions were made in the sunshine at open meetings and have been reported on in the press," Levine adds. "This was done openly, and was consistent with my contractual obligations. Consistent with the ethics laws in Louisiana, I have every intention of disclosing this when I file my disclosure."
In their written responses, both men alluded to Louisiana's new ethics laws, which, now that they're on the books, make Faircloth and Levine's side jobs an even bigger story. Jindal may have given his top aides the Biblical admonition that they can't serve two masters, but in at least these two cases, it's seems quite clear that exceptions can be made.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.