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Guest Commentary: Let the Sunshine In!

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Transparency will help curb cronyism in AG’s office

Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”  At the time, 1913, Brandeis was writing about the need to increase transparency in government as a “remedy for social and industrial diseases,” such as cronyism and corruption.  Many would agree this fundamental principle still holds true today – in fact government transparency is needed now more than ever.

That’s certainly the case as it relates to the lack of sunshine involved in the state’s process for contracting with outside law firms to represent the public’s interest in litigation.

Current law allows the Attorney General’s office to cut deals that pay millions of dollars to personal injury lawyers behind closed doors at taxpayers’ expense.  This practice was highlighted in a recent WWL TV investigative report, which revealed that at least a dozen law firms with personal and political ties to the Attorney General have received highly lucrative, no-bid legal contracts.  WATCH IT NOW.

That’s wrong. Now is the time for real openness and transparency when private lawyers are hired by the Attorney General to work for Louisiana taxpayers. This practice should not be done behind closed doors, as it is now.

Fortunately, the Louisiana Legislature is currently considering HB 799 by Rep. Stuart Bishop to bring legislative oversight and public accountability to this process. HB 799 will shine a light on the Attorney General’s legal contracting practices and bring much-needed openness and transparency to the system.  It also establishes a maximum fee schedule for outside attorneys to prevent abuses of law firms charging exorbitant fees in excess of $500 a hour in some cases.  Importantly, HB 799 also codifies a long-standing Louisiana Supreme Court decision that clearly states the Attorney General cannot hire outside lawyers on a contingent-fee basis, promising them a percentage of the state’s award, which would otherwise go to the state general fund.

These good government reforms are necessary to fix a flawed process that currently allows for cronyism and abuse.  I hope you will join us in supporting HB 799.

NOTE: HB 799 will be heard on the floor of the House of Representatives this week. Please contact your lawmakers now and urge them to vote YES on HB 799.

Melissa Landry is Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit citizens’ watchdog group dedicated to raising awareness about the negative impact of lawsuit abuse and its costs to Louisiana workers, consumers, taxpayers and small businesses.  Learn more at www.LLAW.org