Gov. Jindal’s ex-counsel draws in state contracts
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — A law firm run by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former executive counsel has received more than $1.1 million in no-bid contract work from Jindal appointees and state agencies since leaving the governor’s office and is becoming a fixture in high-profile legal battles for the Republican administration.
The Faircloth Law Group, headed by Jimmy Faircloth, has handled headline-grabbing cases that included the defense of the governor’s signature education laws creating a statewide voucher program and rewriting teacher tenure and pay policies.
A spokesman for the governor’s office told The Associated Press that work wasn’t being deliberately steered to Faircloth. But at least some departments hired Faircloth’s firm upon the recommendation of the Jindal administration.
Faircloth said he doesn’t believe he’s getting the contracts because of his ties to the governor, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
“I like to think I get the call because we give pretty good service,” Faircloth told the AP. “There’s just no way anyone in the executive office is saying, ‘Let’s take care of Jimmy.’ That’s just not happening, no way.”
But Faircloth acknowledged that he did little legal work for state departments before working for Jindal, and a review of agency contracts by the AP shows the Faircloth Law Group has handled at least two dozen cases across state government since 2012.
Jindal hired Faircloth, a campaign contributor, as executive counsel when he took office in January 2008. Faircloth and his law firm had donated $25,000 to Jindal’s gubernatorial campaigns, according to records from the Board of Ethics. Then in July 2009, Faircloth resigned to pursue an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, a race he lost to Marcus Clark.
Faircloth returned to private practice with his new law firm, and within three months of the election loss, in January 2010, he was hired to represent the Louisiana Tax Commission, led by Jindal appointees. He canceled the legal services contract a few months later, after questions were raised about whether he had waited enough time under the law to do the work.
The governor’s executive counsel is among those public employees prohibited from entering into state contracts for a year after leaving the job under Louisiana’s ethics laws. At the time, Faircloth said he didn’t believe the tax commission contract was prohibited, but he was later fined $1,000 by the Board of Ethics for violating the law. The fine was suspended as long as Faircloth remained in compliance with ethics laws.
By the start of 2012, the Faircloth Law Group was again contracting with state agencies, and since then, has done legal work for several Jindal administration departments and the governor’s appointees on challenges to Jindal’s voucher program and to the LSU Board of Supervisors’ closed-door presidential search.
The law firm has been chosen to represent the state on education issues, public records challenges, a transportation project, civil service disputes and cases involving the state self-insurance office.
Information obtained from state departments shows the Faircloth Law Group, with four lawyers in Alexandria and two in Baton Rouge, has received at least $1.1 million since 2012 for its efforts.
Faircloth was hired by the attorney general’s office for the state’s litigation against BP PLC for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He’s also representing Jindal’s office in its dispute with a Medicaid contractor who was fired by the administration amid ongoing criminal investigations into a $200 million contract award. The contractor is disputing the contract termination.
The Faircloth firm’s income from the state is likely to grow because it continues to work on the BP and Medicaid cases. Contracts that the Faircloth Law Group currently has on those cases and other work for state agencies are worth up to another $675,000 on top of the $1.1 million.
Faircloth’s law firm has worked for the following state agencies: the Department of Education, the attorney general’s office, the Department of Transportation and Development, the Office of Risk Management, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the governor’s office and the LSU System.
Outside law firms are hired through millions of dollars in no-bid contracts across state agencies each year. Faircloth’s work represents a small fraction of such contracting.
“I know what we do is a pittance compared to how much gets contracted,” Faircloth said.
But his connection to Jindal has helped him get at least some of the work.
When Faircloth was selected for the education cases, Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said the governor chose to hire Faircloth, though the contract went through Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office.
The governor lost the voucher case, with the financing plan for the program declared unconstitutional by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The second education lawsuit, involving changes to teacher pay and job protection laws, is pending in court. Faircloth’s firm has been paid $325,000 for the work, according to Caldwell spokeswoman Amanda Larkins.
After the Department of Education was sued by a north Louisiana newspaper in a public records dispute, the governor’s office suggested that Faircloth’s firm be hired for the case, said Barry Landry, a department spokesman. The legal work cost about $8,400, Landry said.
Other agencies, such as transportation and veterans affairs, said they weren’t asked to hire the Faircloth Law Group, and the rates charged by the company are in line with approved guidelines from the attorney general’s office.
When asked if the governor’s office advised agencies to contract with Faircloth for legal work or sought to steer work in his direction, Jindal spokesman Sean Lansing initially said no. He said the governor’s office doesn’t direct agencies to hire specific attorneys.
Told that others spoke of Jindal’s office suggesting Faircloth’s firm for the education cases, Lansing later revised his response.
“We have recommended Jimmy in certain circumstances because he is a great lawyer, but at the end of the day, it is up to agency heads to decide on the lawyer who represents them,” he said.
Faircloth said he has experience with complex litigation and a background in governmental law because he handled legal work for local government agencies before he became Jindal’s chief attorney. He acknowledges having ties to the Jindal administration, but he said he hasn’t solicited work from state agencies.
“I don’t deny that I have the benefit of knowing all those folks,” Faircloth said. “I would have worked with a lot of those executive counsels. And I would like to think that in my working with them, they would say, ‘Jimmy’s a very good lawyer, let’s hire him.’”