Covering Louisiana

Jan 10, 2014 9:46 AM by Kevin McGill

La. AG offers defense of role in Big Oil lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit that says he illegally approved a New Orleans-area flood protection board's contract with lawyers who are suing the oil and gas industry over coastal wetlands loss.

Caldwell's office on Thursday released a copy of his state court response to the lawsuit filed last month by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. The filing says Caldwell never approved the contract between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and private lawyers led by Gladstone Jones of New Orleans. It says Caldwell did review the board's resolution to hire the lawyers, making sure it met legal requirements - a task he says he is required by law to do.

The flood board's lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies was filed last summer. It says the companies' coastal drilling activities contributed to the erosion of wetlands, diminishing a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.

The SLFPAE's lawsuit drew immediate fire from the industry when it was filed in July.

Gov. Bobby Jindal blasted the lawsuit as a windfall for trial lawyers and his coastal protection chief, Garret Graves, said the suit would undermine the state's work with the industry to address coastal issued. An association of state levee districts voted to oppose the suit.

Since then, however, two coastal parishes heavily dependent on the industry have filed lawsuits of their own raising similar issues.

LOGA's suit says that because the flood board is a state governmental subdivision, the contingency fees in the flood board's contract with the Jones legal team would be deducted from money due to the state. LOGA says Caldwell approved the contract and thereby unconstitutionally usurped the Legislature's authority to appropriate state money.

Caldwell argued in Thursday's filing in state court in Baton Rouge that the flood board is not a state entity but an independent political subdivision, so the money in question would not be considered state funds.

Caldwell also denied LOGA's claim that the hiring of the outside lawyers was illegal because the Attorney General is counsel for the board. He said that, by law, his office serves as counsel to the board "when called upon to do so" and that his office was not called upon to serve as counsel in the oil and gas lawsuit.

Caldwell seeks dismissal of LOGA's suit and a declaration that he is charged with representing the SLFPA-E and similar boards only when called upon to do so. It also seeks a declaration that his own office can enter legal service contracts with private firms under certain conditions.

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