Editorial: Caldwell criticized for use of outside counsel

A report shows that Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has already spent more money on preparing a legal case against

BP for its Gulf of Mexico oil leak than four other states combined.

The Associated Press also notes that of the $24 million bill Caldwell has already rung up, about 60 percent has gone to outside

counsel.

By contrast, Mississippi has spent $765,000 on outside counsel. Florida has promised a cut of any future damage payments BP

would be ordered to pay if it loses the case to outside law firms it has solicited to work on the case. Texas and Alabama,

the two other states that were affected by the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, haven’t sought outside counsel.

The dichotomy hasn’t been lost on

federal Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over most of the case. He

criticized Caldwell

for paying multiple outside law firms for legal work on the case

while other state attorney generals have built their cases

in-house.

In an email to AP, Caldwell defended

the use of outside counsel, writing, ‘‘Properly handling this case

requires expertise

and experience in areas of mass tort and complex litigation, as

well as class action and environmental law.’’ He added that

he has no one on his staff well-versed in these areas.

University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann said that with billions of dollars in damages at stake, it’s no surprise

that legal fees for outside counsel would run in the millions of dollars.

The Kanner & Whiteley law firm has

collected the most pay via Caldwell’s office at $7 million. That firm

has never donated

to Caldwell’s campaign, but eight of 10 other firms that have made

campaign donations to Caldwell received contract work from

the Louisiana AG’s office for the BP case.

‘‘I’m fairly certain that my

contributions to Buddy Caldwell didn’t have any effect on the amount of

work we’ve gotten or

that we’ve gotten any work at all,’’ said Ike Spears whose law

firm has gotten $37,012 of work from the BP case. Spears’ firm

donated $5,000 previously to Caldwell’s campaign.

Allegations of favoritism to law firms hired as outside counsel have dogged previous Louisiana attorney generals. Whether

it applies here, only Caldwell knows.

Regardless, how the state fares in the BP case and the role that outside counsel plays in shaping the state’s strategy and

argument will go a long way in determining the wisdom in hiring the contract help.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.