James "Buddy" CaldwellBATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline)-Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell said since he took office January 14, he has spent "an inordinate amount of time" trying to restore credibility to the office that critics say became politicized under his predecessor.
Caldwell, a Democrat, said in the roughly 12 weeks that he's been attorney general, countless hours have been spent wading through a bevy of lawsuits filed by former attorney general and fellow Democrat Charles Foti Jr.
In the final days of his term, Foti filed several civil suits and outsourced two large cases to some of his campaign contributors, including lawyers from the Dugan Law Firm and the Murray Law Firm, both based in New Orleans.
"I had an albatross around my neck," Caldwell, 61, told Legal Newsline in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Caldwell said his 530 employees, including 147 attorneys, have been nearly consumed with evaluating the lawsuits, some of which were filed the Saturday before Caldwell's swearing-in ceremony.
Among cases that Caldwell decided to drop was an antitrust lawsuit against Amgen, the Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based drugmaker. The lawsuit was filed by Foti on the last day of his term.
The lawsuit alleged that the drugmaker engaged in illegal pricing practices that penalize clinics if they fail to purchase significant volumes of its Aranesp, a medication used to fight chemotherapy-induced anemia.
Caldwell said the case was dismissed without prejudice, so the "option remains open" if the state wishes to re-file the lawsuit. But going to court is not Caldwell's aim, he said.
"What I bring to Louisiana is a 'you get to come talk' (policy). You get to come to the table; you're not just going to get hit with a lawsuit," Caldwell said. "We're interested in doing the right thing. If somebody messes up, they should clean up."
Caldwell, elected with more than 67 percent of the vote, said his overall aim is to run the attorney general's office as the state's largest law firm and as efficiently and fairly as possibly.
That, he said, "will improve the atmosphere" for both business and attorneys in the state.
"The plaintiffs' attorneys know we've got good defense attorneys and we're going to let them do their thing, so they're coming to the table and settling their cases," Caldwell said. "Taxpayers are having to pay less money by us putting good lawyers on these cases."
The longtime former district attorney from Tallulah, La., Caldwell was elected amid widespread criticism of the attorney general's office for the criminal prosecutions of New Orleans physician Anna Pou and nurses at Memorial Medical Center for Hurricane Katrina-related deaths of elderly patients.
"This created quite a stir in the state and in the nation," Caldwell said of the case that was ultimately thrown out of court, after a grand jury decided not to indict Pou on second degree murder charges.
Foti was also criticized for waiting more than two years to file civil suits against insurance companies, including Allstate and State Farm, after consumers complained insurers were not paying their claims after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.
"Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are huge issues right now in the state, and for the foreseeable future, I would say that coastal restoration is a crucial part of what's going to happen with me and this office over the next 10, 12 years," Caldwell said.
He added, "This wasn't planned to be this way, but it's a necessary thing."
Caldwell said in his first 100 days he has made much-needed changes in the office, including upgrades to his office's civil and criminal divisions.
So far, Caldwell said his office has saved state taxpayers "millions and millions of dollars" by trying to defend outstanding lawsuits against the state and trying to settle others where the state erred.
As for his office's criminal division, Caldwell said the Creole State is as good as any other state in terms of its ability to investigate and track criminals.
"We are now as good as anybody in the United States," Caldwell said. "I will put Louisiana against anyone in the country, criminally."
Caldwell quipped that the former attorney general got in trouble by "not knowing what to do with criminal cases."
From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.