Guest post from Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch executive director Melissa Landry.
Last month, BP announced a historic settlement with the federal government, five states and hundreds of local governments to resolve claims stemming from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, Louisiana will get $5 billion for natural resources damages, at least $787 million for civil penalties under the federal Clean Water Act, and $1 billion for economic damages caused by the spill. In addition to this, the settlement also provides for up to $1 billion to resolve more than 500 lawsuits filed by local municipalities across the region.
Then there’s the last piece of the pie – paying the lawyers.
In Louisiana, politically connected attorneys hired by Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell will take a $38.5 million chuck of the state’s settlement. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, “eight of the law firms working for Caldwell on the BP litigation have been among his political contributors.”
The Attorney General’s Office denies any favoritism and claims the attorneys were “chosen based on their qualifications, experience in complex litigation.” But it’s not the first time Caldwell has caught criticism for doling out highly lucrative legal contracts to attorneys who have financially supported his campaigns.
In fact, it has happened so many times and in such a wide variety of cases, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch has dubbed the practice “The Buddy System.” A whole series of news stories exposing “The Buddy System” have been published on news sites across the state, generating headlines such as, “Attorney General called out for giving contracts to top campaign donors” and “Louisiana AG political contributors reap lucrative legal contracts in BP litigation.”
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 political connections. It is hard to look at the ongoing pattern of questionable behavior and conclude that is what is going on.