Report: Legal watchdog groups call out La. AG for pay-to-play system

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) -- Legal watchdog groups are calling out Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell for giving out lucrative state contracts to top campaign donors.

In a report by WWL-TV Monday, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch and the American Tort Reform Association say the contingency fee contracts Caldwell is using are illegal.

"The attorney general is contracting out much of the state's legal business to a small group of politically connected trial lawyers," Melissa Landry, executive director of the state's Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said during the station's 10 p.m. newscast.

"Many of those individuals are campaign contributors."

Landry pointed to Allen Usry, the attorney general's campaign chief, which has 11 contracts to represent the Attorney General's Office. He, his family and other attorneys at his law firm Usry, Weeks & Matthews have given Caldwell more than $100,000 in combined contributions.

In total, 13 outside firms, given contract work by Caldwell, contributed nearly $280,000 to the attorney general's campaigns, Landry told the TV station.

ATRA, which has dubbed the attorney general's system of awarding contracts the "Buddy System," argues that Caldwell should open the contracting process to a public review process.

"I just gotta do things my way," the attorney general told WWL when asked about the no-bid element of his system.

"I'm from a small town and you gotta know people, and you know if you've had contact with them if they've got a certain skill set."

That's the problem, ATRA President Tiger Joyce told the TV station.

"To say there are only a handful of people I know and trust, that's an unacceptable answer," he said. "And any reform would begin with the notion of public bidding for those services."

To watch the full segment, click here.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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