BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Governor John Bel Edwards is not backing down on his stance on the state's involvement in litigation against oil and gas companies over damage to coastal areas, and he said there is nothing fishy about the list of private lawyers he has enlisted to work on the state's case.
Certainly the oil and gas industry is critical to the state's economy, but Edwards said the benefits have come with a price.
"I don't think anybody, not even the oil and gas industry deny that they've caused unrepaired coastal damages," he said.
Edwards said the state has intervened in lawsuits filed by a handful of coastal parishes against oil and gas companies. He expects more local government to take similar steps.
"As governor, I believe it's my job to protect the state's interests," said the governor.
If all of the affected coastal communities do not litigate, the governor said the state will take action
"For those coastal parishes where we know that there have been damages because of these same activities, should they not to choose to file legislation, at some point in the not too distant future we will at the state level…to make sure that we have a global resolution," Edwards said.
But the governor's choice of some private attorneys to help the state with the massive case that could prove lucrative to lawyers has stirred controversy recently. Some of the lawyers donated to his campaign. FOX 8 News asked the governor to respond to critics who suggest his decision amounts to cronyism.
"Well, first of all, I just reject that completely. Secondly, the attorneys that I have engaged are excellent attorneys, I don't think anybody questions their credentials," he said.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry sees it differently. He has refused to sign off on the contract the administration put together for the lawyers.
"It provided for an illegal contingency arrangement, something that the Legislature had spoken about clearly a couple of years ago," Landry said. "I was not going to sign a contract that I can't give any other lawyers around the state. I think that's unfair and I think it's illegal."
"I will tell you there's nothing untoward, improper about the contract," said the governor Wednesday.
"What the governor is trying to confuse is the fact that inside of his contract he specifically tried to break out and grant those lawyers an exception that if the law was changed, that's something that we've never seen in any of the contracts. All we said is that, look we pointed out the different discrepancies in the contract and the governor has never refuted or rebutted the correspondence that we sent to him, pointing out the discrepancies and flaws in the particular contract," Landry stated.
He questions the timing of the contracts being signed. He said he learned of them when the attorneys filed motions in court.
"It begs the question as to why all of this was done kind of under the dark of night while half of Louisiana was under water," said Landry.
The governor believes Landry has fabricated flaws in the contract.
"If I were trying to enrich these lawyers, why would I in the contract have a $225 hourly fee when the amount approved by the Legislature and in the law that governs that is $500 an hour?" asked the governor.
And Edwards is not backing down on his choice of attorneys.
"I've got the team that I intend to use and it's not even open for discussion that I'm going in a different direction," he said.
He suggested that he would pursue other options, including litigation, if the attorney general failed to go along with his selection of attorneys.
"He doesn't have unlimited discretion as to whether to approve the contracts or to block the lawyers, and I think it's going to be manifestly apparent very soon that he's exceeded his authority here…At some point, if he persists in his unreasonable refusal, there are other avenues open to us, and I certainly don't foreclose using those," said Edwards.
In response, Landry said, "Certainly, the governor is welcome to engage in any, you know, act that he so feels he needs, however, I would argue that the governor is really arguing with the wrong person. He is continuing to have a problem with me and his problem is with the law."
Landry and the governor have been at odds over certain issues before now, fueling speculation that Landry, a Republican, may be interested in running against the Democratic governor.
When asked by FOX 8 News if he is eyeing the governor's post, Landry insisted he's not.
"Absolutely, I like the job that I'm doing, okay? I think that if the governor would focus on his job, and not on my job, then I don't think that he would have to worry about any opposition," Landry said.
Edwards said he hopes the latest dispute can be resolved during a meeting with Landry next week.