Jim Beam column: AGs are not crime fighters

Published 7:29 am Saturday, September 16, 2023

Five candidates have qualified in an effort to become the state’s next attorney general. Jeff Landry, who has served two terms as AG, is a candidate for governor. The attorney general heads the Department of Justice and is the state’s chief legal officer.

The AG’s major responsibility is to protect the rights and interests of the state, defend Louisiana laws against constitutional challenges in federal court, and give written advisory opinions on questions of law to state and local officials.

The three Republicans in the race are “Marty” Maley and “Liz” Baker Murrill, both of Baton Rouge, and John Stefanski of Crowley. The other two candidates are Democrats — Lindsey Cheek and Perry Walker Terrebonne, both of New Orleans.

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Murrill, as the solicitor general, is one of Landry’s top aides. The Advocate in a report on the candidates said Murrill handles cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and legal appeals on federal issues and states’ rights.

Republican megadonor Lane Grigsby, an avid supporter of Landry, said earlier this month that Landry had asked him to personally back Murrill. The Illuminator reported that Grigsby in an interview said Landry told him it would be a “travesty” if Murrill wasn’t elected.

Grigsby said, “After I met her, I thought she might be one of the best AGs in the United States” if she’s elected this fall. “Even if you ask Jeff, she really runs the AG’s office already.”

Stefanski, 39, at a Public Affairs Research forum, said he was the best candidate because he has handled a variety of cases as a small-town lawyer and because of the variety of issues he has handled since 2016 as a state representative.

“We’ve put together one of the winningest and what I believe is the best campaign team in America,” Stefanski told The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette nearly a year ago. “More importantly, my entire team has Louisiana roots. They are personally invested in this race and have a genuine concern for the future of our state.”

The newspaper said Murrill, 59, grew up in Lafayette but has mostly lived  in Baton Rouge since attending LSU. She has Landry’s support for AG and said, “What they (other candidates) are promising to do as attorney general is what I do already now.”

The Louisiana Illuminator said the Republican Attorneys General Association gave Murrill “a very early endorsement in February.” She is also backed by the Republican Party of Louisiana.

Maley, 59, said he has the background to be attorney general because he spent 17 years working for the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. He said that was followed by 11 years as an assistant district attorney in West Baton Rouge Parish prosecuting homicide cases.

Cheek has been endorsed by the Democratic Attorneys General Association in Washington, D.C. She founded the Cheek law firm and previously served as an assistant district attorney/clerk at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Texas.

“My reason for running,” she said, “is simple: to be a true People’s Lawyer, advocating for the rights and freedoms of every Louisianan. I will be a tireless leader in protecting Louisiana’s rights, safeguarding our environment, and keeping families safe.”

The Louisiana Illuminator on Aug. 9 reported that Terrebonne, “a longshot Democrat,” qualified with little fanfare and made no comment to reporters.

The candidates at the PAR forum talked about the state’s serious crime issue. Murrill said New Orleans is so dangerous she makes sure to pack a gun when she visits the city.

Maley said north Baton Rouge is “unsafe,” adding that after 6 p.m., “it gets dicey.”

The Times-Picayune reported in March that Maley, Murrill, and Stefanski promised to follow in Landry’s footsteps by fighting what they described as surging crime across the state and the federal government’s infringement on citizens’ rights.

Despite those comments, The Advocate said they also agreed that the attorney general’s office has few tools to tackle crime since its main focus is suing and defending the state in court.

The attorney general has a very limited role in prosecuting criminals and cannot become involved in a criminal case without an invitation from a parish district attorney.

If the Republican candidates for attorney general really want “to follow in Landry’s footsteps,” voters who don’t care for the way the attorney general has run that office for nearly eight years will be looking for someone else. Someone who will be his or her own person.