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Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

By Robert Burns, Guest Columnist

Most of the media headlines entailing Bruce Greenstein, Gov. Jindal’s former head of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), have centered around his recent indictment for alleged false testimony during his confirmation hearing and alleged false statements made to a Louisiana grand jury convened by Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to delve into possible misconduct entailing the awarding of the state Medicaid contract to Client Network Services Incorporated (CNSI).  Less noteworthy in the news media, but a matter in which Louisiana Voice has taken a keen interest, is the civil trial taking place in Judge Tim Kelley’s courtroom entailing CNSI’s claim of wrongful termination of its contract for which it seeks millions of dollars in alleged damages.

During a hearing in early 2014, Judge Kelley repeatedly sought the status of any Federal investigation into alleged wrongdoing regarding the awarding of the contract.  Very reluctantly, David Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, admitted that the Feds had closed their investigation but emphasized that the State of Louisiana was proceeding forward and emphasized to Judge Kelley that “The AG’s Office has encountered other instances in which the Feds closed an investigation but we continued and ultimately obtained indictments.”

The parties are now in the discovery phases of the civil trial. Attorney Lewis Unglesby, along with Michael McKay and Justin Lemaire, is representing CNSI, and some very intriguing accusations have been bantered about in court hearings. Among those accusations, conveyed at an October 28, 2014, hearing, is that Attorney General Investigator Scott Bailey   met with and potentially improperly coached CNSI whistleblower Steve Smith into changing his testimony, resulting in contradictory depositions.  It was also at that hearing that David Caldwell, in attempting to defend the visits with Smith by his office and relaying to Judge Kelley that “We didn’t do anything wrong,” emphasized, “We’re not trying to rig a civil case.”

Perhaps Caldwell may indeed not be trying to “rig a civil case” and genuinely seeks only to prosecute Greenstein for his alleged perjury; however, based on a hearing in Judge Kelley’s courtroom today (Monday, December 15, 2014), it appears equally apparent that the State of Louisiana is prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent CNSI’s lawyers from advancing discovery in the civil trial toward the plaintiff attorneys’ goal of a trial sometime in 2015.

To that end, today’s hearing entailed the fact that CNSI’s lawyers have scheduled a deposition of Stephen Russo, legal counsel for the Department of Health and Hospitals for tomorrow (Tuesday, December 16, 2014).  The State’s attorneys, led by Justin O’Brien, sought to block the deposition on multiple fronts including attorney-client privilege.

Throughout Greenstein’s testimony before the grand jury, he repeatedly emphasized that Russo serves as the personal legal attorney for the head of the DHH and thus served as Greenstein’s personal attorney during his tenure as head of the agency.  As such, Unglesby relayed to Judge Kelley that any attorney-client privilege had unequivocally been waived through Greenstein’s grand jury testimony. Unglesby said Greenstein was present in court and would be more than happy to state to the court that he waived any attorney-client privilege. O’Brien also indicated to Judge Kelley that the intended line of questioning by Unglesby was overly broad. Unglesby, however, countered that argument by holding up a small folder and relaying his intent to be laser-focused on the pertinent discussions between Russo and Greenstein during the critical period entailing the awarding of the contract.

On two separate occasions, Unglesby made brief reference to material in Greenstein’s grand jury transcript. O’Brien objected and asked that Judge Kelley order the courtroom cleared since statements were about to be made regarding grand jury testimony. Unglesby countered by relaying that the AG’s Office had, and he emphasized that Caldwell may have “likely acted illegally” in doing so, made the grand jury transcript public. Grand jury secrecy, therefore, was no longer an issue. Judge Kelley concurred and emphasized that he’d even read the grand jury testimony accounts in the newspaper and therefore would not be clearing the courtroom.

At one point, O’Brien wanted to introduce into evidence a document that he said would demonstrate that John McLindon, Greenstein’s attorney, had provided contradictory statements.  Judge Kelley relayed he’d be happy to look at anything as long as opposing counsel had seen it first.  When O’Brien presented a copy to McLindon, he (McLindon) immediately relayed, “That was filed under seal.”   Upon hearing that, Judge Kelley relayed that, if the document was filed under seal, nobody, including him, should be looking at it.

Judge Kelley informed Unglesby that it would not be necessary to have Greenstein waive any attorney-client privilege at the day’s proceeding and ruled that the deposition could proceed as scheduled.  Judge Kelley was very specific in justifying his ruling in relaying that, in the court’s view, attorney-client privilege had certainly been waived, and he further emphasized that the intended scope of the deposition was in conformity with Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure in terms of not being overly broad nor designed to harass the deponent.

O’Brien asked Judge Kelley to stay his order pending a writ being filed with the First Circuit Court of Appeal.  Judge Kelley relayed, “I’m not staying anything.  If you take issue with my ruling, you can file that with the First Circuit, but I want to be understood on this matter.  In the court’s view, this matter is clear.  It’s straightforward.  The court views this matter as being very clear and I want it into the record that’s the court’s view.”  After O’Brien sought for Judge Kelley to reiterate that he felt it was clear (which Judge Kelley did reiterate), he pulled out a pre-drafted order and asked if Judge Kelley would sign it for the Frist Circuit to consider a stay on his ruling.  Judge Kelley relayed that, upon filing, O’Brien could bring the document back up for him to sign (even relaying he could interrupt court if necessary due to the urgency of the matter).

Assuming the First Circuit doesn’t grant a stay, it sure would be interesting to be able to sit in on tomorrow’s deposition.  The one thing that was evident today is that the State’s attorneys clearly fear Unglesby being able to question Russo about that critical timeframe and communications he had with Greenstein entailing the awarding of the contract.  Based on Greenstein’s willingness to show up at today’s hearing and relay that he’d be happy to formally waive any attorney-client privilege, it seems obvious that Greenstein and McLindon feel they will likely reap a spillover benefit from the deposition entailing Greenstein’s criminal defense.

So, even though the big headlines of the CNSI contract awarding and cancellation may entail Greenstein’s indictment, the far more intriguing aspect of that contract appears to be playing out in the CNSI civil trial in Judge Kelley’s courtroom.  Stay tuned folks, Louisiana Voice will keep readers informed as further court hearings transpire.

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The Congressional elections are finally over and political junkies will have to wait several more months before the 2015 gubernatorial campaigns kick into high gear. With four candidates already announced and millions of out-of-state dollars looming to stoke the flames, there are sure to be plenty of fireworks to grate on our collective psyches by the time a successor to Gov. Bobby Jindal is chosen.

But for those who can’t wait that long, New Orleans author Steven Wells Hicks may have the appetizer as a prelude to the entrée of hard-nosed, in the gutter, take no prisoners Louisiana politics to which we have become accustomed.

Destiny’s Anvil (Pan American Copyright Conventions, 283 pages) is a rich mix of ambition, corruption, old money, oil and payback that keeps the action moving right through the final page.

The book’s title is drawn from a quote by German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “You must either conquer and rule or suffer and lose, be the anvil or the hammer.”

The story revolves around brothers Tucker and Carter Callahan and their boyhood friend Will Guidry, the sitting Louisiana attorney general who has the single-minded obsession of reaching one objective: the office of the governor of Louisiana. Guidry doesn’t let lifelong friendships stand in the way of his stated goal and everyone around him pays a hefty price for his political drive.

Carter is the protagonist through whom the story is told with skill and directness that lays bare the back room machinations of Bayou State politics.

Tucker is a political strategist who gets Will elected first as district attorney of Charbonnaux Parish and later as attorney general. Carter, meanwhile, stays home in New Acadia and takes over the family’s thriving oil exploration business.

And what story about genteel southern living would be complete without the obligatory love triangle? This one manifests itself in the person of Katherine Ormande (Kayo) Laborde who early on was in love with Carter but by the time we meet her, she is married to brother Tuck. But it is her deep-seeded and understandable hatred of Guidry that fuels this story.

All four are reared in Charbonnaux Parish and the political and legal conflicts that arise between Will and the brothers provides a sordid—and believable—backdrop into the free-for-all that has come to symbolize Louisiana politics right down to the inclusion of pigs in TV political ads (The pigs, by the way, will evoke memories among the older set of Earl Long once claiming that opponent Sam Jones fell into a mud puddle occupied by pigs. A passerby observed that one’s character could be judged by the company he keeps. “The pigs got up and left,” was Long’s zinger to the story.)

Hicks confuses the story somewhat by mixing real places like Shreveport and Baton Rouge with fictional localities such as Charbonnaux Parish and New Acadia but if you can get by that small inconsistency (and it’s easy to do), the book is an enjoyable read for those familiar with the uniqueness of Louisiana politics which at times passes for a contact sport which other states seem to be trying to imitate but are unable to quite duplicate.

As the story unfolds, events begin to spin out of control and the twists in the plot will transport the characters to the surprise ending in rapid fire fashion while leaving the reader wanting more.

There is one slight inaccuracy that can be attributed to a simple memory lapse or even a typo and is certainly forgivable.

On page 59, the political kingmakers of Louisiana are discussing the attributes of a candidate to whom they will lend their not insignificant support. Discussing the merits of a fictional senator from Louisiana, he is compared other powerful U.S. senators. “He was indeed a senator’s senator,” said J.X., “and a Southern gentleman to boot. Like John Stennis, Lyndon Johnson, and even our own Earl Long.”

Earl Long was never a U.S. Senator; he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960 but died 10 days after the election and never took office. Hicks, of course, may have intended his reference to Earl’s brother, Huey Long, who did serve in the U.S. Senate until his assassination in Baton Rouge or more likely to Huey’s son Russell who served 39 years in the Senate. “I don’t know how I managed to make a mistake like that,” Hicks said when contacted about the error. “I certainly knew better.”

But he more than made up for that gaffe with a most profound sentence that should (but sadly, does not) sum up what should be the required mantra of all who hold political office:

“The responsibility for building and maintaining our way of open and honest government belongs in the hands of those who elected our leaders and not the leaders themselves.”

That one sentence speaks volumes about how our political structure should function but sadly, does not and the ethical code to which it should strive.

And it, in and of itself, makes the book well worth the read.

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If anything at all can be taken from the 100-plus pages of grand jury testimony of Bruce Greenstein, it’s that Greenstein’s memory lapses and his reluctance to adequately answer repeated questions about his role in the awarding of a major contract to his former bosses taxed the patience of members of the grand jury who were forced to listen to his verbal sparring with prosecutors for hours on end.

But in the end, there was no smoking gun, although Greenstein, former Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Secretary, on several occasions during his testimony said an agency-wide memorandum cautioning DHH employees to avoid contact with bidders on the $189 million contract during the selection process did not apply to him.

Though grand jury testimony is normally secret, several perjury counts returned against Greenstein in the nine-count indictment were based on his grand jury testimony so it would be subject to discovery in order for Greenstein to prepare his legal defense and therefore would be public.

Greenstein also admitted he initiated what has come to be known as “Addendum No. 2,” which was crucial in allowing his former employer, CNSI, to qualify to submit proposals for the contract, which it ultimately won in mid-2011. The contract was cancelled in March of 2013 when it became known than the FBI had been investigating the contract since January of that year.

During his testimony, it was revealed that Greenstein had maintained constant contact with a friend at CNSI, Vice President of Government Affairs Creighton Carroll and that the frequency of those contacts increased dramatically during Greenstein’s interviewing for the Louisiana job and during the formulation of Addendum No. 2.

In the first five months of 2010, for example, there eight total contacts consisting of texts and phone calls between the two men. In June of, however, just before he began the interview process for the DHH position, there were 75 contacts. From July through January, there were 864 contacts, including 227 in January of 2011 alone, when “the whole Addendum 2 stuff was going down,” according to Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson. “Before you take office,” Wilson said, “we have not even a dozen contacts with Mr. Carroll. And after you take office, we have a total…of 2,882 communications. How do you explain that?”

“He is a prolific texter,” Greenstein replied.

Further into the questioning, Wilson was still trying to reconcile Greenstein’s testimony before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in which he claimed he had no contact with CNSI officials during the bidding process and the facts to the contrary as revealed by the thousands of text messages and telephone calls between Greenstein and CNSI.

“…Four months after a very important conversation with your friend and former employer, Mr. (CNSI co-founder and President Adnan) Ahmed, and you tell Sen. (Karen Carter) Peterson (D-New Orleans) there were no vendor conversations regarding the RFP (request for proposals) after it was released,” Wilson said. “And you admitted a minute ago that that conversation with Mr. Ahmed definitely involved the RFP. So that was not an accurate statement, was it?”

“I did not make it at the time thinking it was an inaccurate statement,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein’s memory appeared to grow progressively worse as the questions became more pointed.

“Do you recall a meeting with DHH officials and DOA (Division of Administration) people, specifically (then-Commissioner of Administration) Paul Rainwater and (DHH Assistant Secretary) J.T. Lane…where you had a meeting regarding the emails that had been found? Do you remember that meeting?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t remember that meeting with Mr. Lane and Mr. Rainwater and several other people in between your testimonies before the Senate?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Do you recall being explicitly asked by folks at the meeting from both DHH and DOA, ‘Is this all there is?”

“No.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” said Wilson. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t remember having a meeting with Paul Rainwater about these emails.”

At one point during Greenstein’s testimony, it was revealed by Wilson that Greenstein supposedly agreed to a letter of recommendation on behalf of CNSI to his counterpart in Arkansas. He cited a Feb. 5, 2013 email from Carroll to DHH executive counsel Steve Russo which said, “As you know, B.G.—which I believe probably means Bruce Greenstein—has agreed to a letter of recommendation…to the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the CNSI, which was also trying to get a contract for a (sic) MMIS (Medicaid Management Information Systems) system in Arkansas, correct?”

The letter subsequently went out over Undersecretary Jerry Phillips’ signature, Wilson noted, asking “Whose idea was that?”

“I can’t remember who wanted to sign it,” Greenstein said. “I know that I didn’t want to sign that.”

“Then why does Creighton say, ‘As you know, B.G. has recommended a letter of recommendation’?”

“I probably said that when asked about a recommendation,” Greenstein said.

“Your friend asked you to help his company…get more business and you said, ‘I will do that,’ right?”

“I didn’t say I will do that.”

“Well, if you said yes, why is Jerry Phillips sending out a letter?”

“Well, it’s not Bruce Greenstein on the letter.”

“I’m going to ask you pointblank. True or false: this letter that was rewritten and signed by Jerry Phillips, you directed him to do that?”

“I do not remember that,” Greenstein said.

“How could you not remember that?”

“Because I don’t remember that.”

“That’s hard to believe, Mr. Greenstein,” Wilson said. “I mean, this reference is clearly a discussion that you had with Creighton Carroll regarding this letter that he sends to your department that he, or someone from CNSI, wrote that is then minimally changed and signed by not you, but your under-secretary.

“Jerry Phillips didn’t show you this letter before he sent it out?” Wilson asked.

“I can’t remember seeing…I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It just looks to me like between Creighton’s comment here about ‘B.G. has agreed to a letter of recommendation’—and that was on Feb. 5th and the letter was issued on Feb. 14th, nine days later—this was almost sounds like cold feet. The former letter he sends is for your signature, but in nine days, now it’s got Mr. Phillips’ …signature on it.”

[The Arkansas Department of Human Services, in July of that year, disqualified CNSI from participating in the bidding on its system as a result of the Louisiana investigation and resignation of Greenstein.]

Wilson also questioned the propriety of allowing CNSI to bid on the contract to process Medicaid claims for DHH. Brandishing a letter dated Dec. 7, 2010, from the Charlotte, N.C., law firm McGuire-Woods, he said the firm was representing CNSI in a major financial default case that threatened to bankrupt the company—a full six months before the CNSI contract was signed.

“Were you ever aware of the fact that they were basically in receivership with BOA (Bank of America) at the time they were bidding? Were you ever informed of that? Were you ever told that, as a matter of fact, their line of credit had been restricted by Bank of America to the extend they could not spend money unless they got prior approval from BOA? Did Mr. Carroll and Mr. Ahmed ever tell you about the troubles, the clear financial troubles that the company was having at the time they were trying to get this money from this bid?

“Should that have been disclosed to DHH?” Wilson asked.

“That’s a good question,” replied Greenstein.

Further into Greenstein’s testimony, he was asked if he was told to resign or be fired.

“I was told to resign,” he said.

“Were you specifically told by the administration officials that you had lied to them?”

“No.”

“They just said, ‘Get out’?”

“Actually, it was Paul Rainwater—when he was in the Chief of Staff’s office.

“And did Paul ever say, ‘Bruce, you lied to us’?”

“No.”

“You are sure about that?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“You tried not to tell the Senate that CNSI had won (the contract),” Wilson said. “You didn’t tell the Senate about communications with CNSI regarding Addendum No. 2. You didn’t tell the Senate about hundreds of communications with Carroll. You did not tell DHH and DOA officials about communications with Carroll after they asked you if there was anything else, although you say you don’t recall that meeting.”

At one point in the questioning, this time from Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, it appeared there would be a link established between the events surrounding the contract and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, but the line of questioning ended almost as abruptly as it started.

Referencing the date of Jan. 10, 2011, Caldwell said, “I see some calls from Bruce Greenstein’s work cell back and forth between you and Timmy Teepell. What did Timmy have to do with…was he was with Division of Administration or the governor’s office at that time?”

“At that time I think he was with the Chief of Staff for the governor,” Greenstein said. [Teepell never worked for DOA].

“Do you recall what he was talking to you about?” Caldwell asked.\

“I have no idea,” replied Greenstein.

“Was he talking to you about that amendment [Addendum No. 2] of this particular contract?”

“Probably not.”

“What involvement did Mr. Teepell have in this process? What information did he have about the DHH contracts? Because I think that maybe even Mr. Ahmad said in the paper that he had gone over to the governor’s mansion to talk to him, right? I’m just trying to get a sense as to how much involvement people within the governor’s office might have had.”

Caldwell also singled out a series of communications between Greenstein and Alton Ashy, who was the lobbyist for CNSI. “Was he trying to push this amendment for CNSI, this Addendum No. 2?”

“Yeah, I mean, he should have been… but he had a lot of other business at DHH as well.”

Caldwell later noted that Greenstein at one point had asked DHH Chief of Staff Calder Lynch specific questions about Ashy, saying, “A company I know wants to hire him” and that Lynch had responded, “Not that it’s terribly helpful or relevant, but we can speak offline.” Offline could, for example, mean speaking by phone rather than leaving a paper trail of emails.

“How did you come to get involved with recommending a lobbyist on CNSI’s behalf? I don’t understand how all that went down.”

Caldwell also grilled Greenstein on his intervention on behalf of CNSI when it became apparent that CNSI was unable to make good on its required bond for the contract. “Did you have discussion with (DHH executive Counsel) Steve Russo in which it was discussed whether you could wait until the contract was signed to call for the bond to be posted?”

“I don’t remember a conversation like that.”

Greenstein and Caldwell sparred over the refusal to allow Greenstein to communicate with Russo after the investigation was initiated. “DHH wouldn’t allow me to talk with my own attorney,” Greenstein complained.

“Is he your personal lawyer?” Caldwell asked.

“He represented the secretary in many proceedings…he reiterated many, many times…that he was my attorney and we have attorney-client privilege.”

“Let me explain to you why he doesn’t want to talk to you,” Caldwell said. “There’s all these things in your deposition where you have said that people said something or they didn’t say something—and I will tell you right now, it is directly contradicted by what those people have said. [Caldwell hinted at but never actually said that Russo was—and is—paid by the State of Louisiana and represents DHH but not any DHH personnel once they come under investigation for or charged by the state with wrongdoing].

Later, Caldwell brought up boasts by CNSI officials that they had political influence with Greenstein’s office. “Are you aware that they constantly threw it around that they had influence on the ninth floor and this is how they were going to get the contract?”

“No,” Greenstein replied.

Even though Greenstein maintained that he pushed for Addendum No. 2 as a means of opening up the bidding process to more vendors in the hopes of obtaining the best deal possible for the state, Caldwell noted that when another bidder, ACS, requested an extension of the proposal deadline, “Bruce said no,” according to an internal DHH email.

After the attorneys took their shots, individual members of the grand jury had their turn at asking questions of Greenstein and the mood of the grand jury was best summed up by one member near the close of testimony who said:

“Sir, I just have two questions. How are you being transparent when you can’t recall anything and secondly, when you sit down with your children and you explain your part in Louisiana history, what will you tell them?”

For those with lots of time on your hands, here is a link to the full transcript of the grand jury testimony: http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Bruce_Greenstein_Grand_Jury_Testimony.pdf

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You have to love the Division of Administration (DOA) and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). Their concern for the 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents is surpassed only by their arrogance.

Saying “We heard the financial concerns of our members and Legislators,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols made the self-serving announcement that OGB has decided to delay the effective date of changes arbitrarily (and illegally) implemented to medical and pharmacy plans from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. OGB RELEASE

Here is the information provided on the OGB web site: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D344D6A45794E533551524559334E6A4D32

Never mind that State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) told Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West back on Sept. 25 that they were flirting with major litigation and the threat of having to refund millions of dollars to OGB members who were hit with benefits changes which were illegal until such time as a rule could be adopted. Here is the link to video clips of that hearing: http://youtu.be/ct652tBa8Mc.

Except for Edwards who said the move was illegal. He requested and obtained an Attorney General’s opinion that agreed with him.

            Nichols, as is her custom, was not going to promulgate rules at all in implementing the new rates members would have to pay for prescriptions even though the law requires advertisement and public hearings on such changes. Instead, the administration, facing a shrinking OGB reserve fund because of its repeated premium cuts, plunged ahead, the law and state employees be damned.

The premiums were reduced so that the state would enjoy a similar reduction in the 75 percent of premiums it is required to pay for health coverage of OGB members. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Nichols cut the rates by nearly 9 percent despite a report from Buck Consultants which stated flatly that it never made such actuarial advice.

Pursuant to testimony given in the Sept. 25 hearing by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) in which Kristy said Buck Consultants had recommended a premium reduction, Edwards requested a copy of the actuarial recommendations.

            “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” Edwards said Tuesday. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

The OGB web site does contain a request for proposals (RFP) for an actuarial that is dated Sept. 26: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D774E4445794D793551524559334E444531

The Baton Rouge Advocate said the refunds the state must now make to OGB members who were overcharged in the form of out-of-pocket expenses will come to nearly $4.5 million and is expected to be refunded within 60 days.

http://theadvocate.com/news/10718472-123/group-benefits-change-announced

Getting the refunds for the overcharges won’t be a walk in the park if past experience with the OGB pharmaceutical benefits administrator is any indication. “Members who incurred increased pharmacy costs between Aug. 1 and Sept. 29 based on exclusions must submit an appeals form to MedImpact,” said the news release from OGB, adding that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBS) will reprocess claims for members who incurred increased medical costs through their providers during that time period. There is an appeals form for MedImpact on the OGB web page, but it appears to apply only to prescriptions that were rejected or denied by pharmacies in August and September: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D344D6A45794E693551524559334E6A4D33

If members incurred costs that were not submitted through a provider, they must submit an appeal request form to Blue Cross and Blue Shield,” the release said. “The forms can be found on the OGB website at www.groupbenefits.org.”

Edwards said the burden should not be placed on state employees and retirees to file appeals on overpayments. “Group Benefits has the claims information and they should be required to make the determination of who is owed what and it should be Group Benefits that takes the initiative on this,” he said.

Of course, by placing the onus on employees and retirees, DOA is counting on members being unfamiliar with the process or uninformed about the refund program altogether. If they do not file appeals for refunds, no refund will be made and the state will not have to repay victims of the overcharges. “That’s why Group Benefits should be the one responsible for seeing to it that everyone who was overcharged because of its illegal actions in implementing the changes in the first place should get those overcharges refunded,” Edwards said. “The members should not be held responsible for the illegal actions of Group Benefits and DOA.”

Here are links to the after-the-fact DOA Emergency Rule declaration: http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/Presentations/Emergency_Rules_-_Office_of_Group_Benefits_9-30-2014.pdf and DOA’s Notice of Intent: http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/Presentations/Ordinary_Rule_-_Office_of_Group_Benefits_10-01-2014.pdf

The clumsy attempt at circumventing the law is just another in a long line of embarrassing episodes perpetrated by the Jindal administration as the governor pays less and less attention to the home front in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, leaving the job of running the state to appointees equally unqualified as he to run so much as a snow cone stand.

Nichols typically ignored the threat of litigation in making the announcement just as the administration ignored the law in implementing the changes, even disagreeing in that Sept. 25 hearing on the necessity of publishing the proposed changes and conducting public hearings.

And West even attempted to justify the changes by pointing out to retirees and active members that she must pay the same premiums as they. She apparently failed to consider the fact that most state employees and certainly most retirees do not make her $170,000 per year salary.

The Retired State Employees Association (RSEA) threatened a lawsuit, challenging the administration’s contention that it could use the emergency rule (employed repeatedly by the administration during Jindal’s nearly seven years in office) to make changes in the medical and pharmacy plans.

Nichols was not even around for the conclusion of that Sept. 25 JLCB meeting, having stepped out of the committee room ostensibly to take an “important” phone call. In reality, it turned out she stepped out permanently to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans where she watched from the comfort of the governor’s luxury box at the Smoothie King Arena (see the snow cone stand reference above).

“Let’s hope that the legislature will continue to exercise oversight on this issue to drive more changes in the plans whereby the out-of-pocket cost increases of OGB members are reduced and (so that) the state will share in the cost of restoring the system’s soundness,” Edwards said in a prepared statement.

 

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What kind of person, serving as a municipal fire chief, would purchase ribbons and decorations of previous conflicts from a military surplus store and pen them on his own uniform?

Apparently the kind of person that Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Gov. Bobby Jindal would want to protect even to the point of prevailing upon an ally in the legislature to file an amendment to abolish the very agency conducting an investigation of that and other offenses.

At the same time State Fire Marshal Butch Browning was being reinstated in May of 2012 by his boss, Mike Edmonson who serves as both State Police Superintendent and Deputy Secretary of DPS, State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Napoleonville) was introducing an amendment to House Bill 1, the state’s operating budget, to pull the $1.7 million funding for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the middle of OIG’s investigation of allegations of payroll fraud and a sloppy inspection of a carnival ride in Greensburg only seven hours before teenage siblings were injured by the ride.

The timing of the amendment was enough to make you toss your lunch of stone cold ethics and hot back room politics.

Browning “retired” on April 18 in the middle of that investigation but returned just 12 days later, on April 30, with an $8,000-per-year increase in pay after being “cleared” by Edmonson of any wrongdoing—six months before an investigative report by OIG was even issued.

But if Jindal and his co-conspirators intended to thwart the investigation by abolishing the agency led by Stephen Street, those efforts wilted in a backlash of public support for the office immediately ensued which caused the legislature—and Jindal—to back down from the effort despite a favorable 11-5 vote on Harrison’s amendment by the House Appropriations Committee.

Remember, this is the same governor who two years later would attempt to sneak through another amendment granting Edmonson a lucrative $55,000-a-year increase in retirement benefits only to have that plan crash and burn when LouisianaVoice learned of the implications of the amendment by State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia).

OIG serves as white-collar watchdog and as an internal affairs division within state government but Harrison, in offering his amendment, argued that OIG’s functions overlapped those of State Police and the Attorney General’s Office.

As we have already seen, State Police, under the direction of Edmonson, gave Browning high marks in exonerating him from any wrongdoing and as we have also seen in other matters, the Attorney General’s Office is more than a little reluctant to involve itself in the investigation of any state agency—except of course in a situation such as that of former Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein where the feds are already actively investigating a questionable contract with Greenstein’s former employer.

In that case, Attorney General intervention made good press.

In fact, since the 1974 State Constitution was adopted over the objections of then-Attorney General Billy Guste, the Attorney General’s duties are primarily restricted to defending state agencies, not investigating them and can generally enter a local matter at the express invitation of the local district attorney. In fact, the Attorney General has even begged off certain investigative matters, citing a potential conflict of interest should his office be called to defend or represent the agency.

Hammond attorney and state government watchdog C.B. Forgotston, former chief counsel for the House Appropriations Committee disagreed with Harrison’s contention that the OIG is “pretty much redundant.”

Forgotston said the office might be redundant “if any other agency in the state was stopping waste and fraud within the executive branch. Nobody at the state level is pursuing corruption in Louisiana,” he said.

Street said he linked his office’s funding to the amount of money it uncovers through wrongdoing by state officials and contractors. OIG’s annual report in 2012 showed the office had uncovered $3.2 million in fraud and waste the previous fiscal year, nearly double the office’s $1.7 million budget appropriation.

The reaction to Harrison’s bill and to Jindal’s transparent ploy was immediate.

“Is it a bargain to spend $1 to root out nearly $2 in fraud in Louisiana?” the Lake Charles American Press asked in a May 15, 2012, editorial. http://www.americanpress.com/AP-Editorial-5-16-12

“Apparently, some members of the state Legislature don’t think so,” the editorial said, adding that Harrison had admitted that he did not agree with the OIG’s investigation of Browning. He said there should have been no investigation in the first place but Street said his office had received a complaint (from the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission) about how Browning was doing his job and so he launched an investigation. “I was told if you do this (job) right, you’ll eventually have people trying to shut you down,” Street was quoted by the paper as saying.

The editorial disagreed with Harrison’s claim that State Police and the Attorney General’s Office could take up the slack. “The attorney general in Louisiana is too much of a political species to launch investigations into wrongdoing by other politicians or political agencies,” it said in something of an understatement. “An office that ferrets out nearly $2 in fraud for every $1 it costs is too valuable to Louisiana to eliminate.”

The non-partisan Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) agreed. “The state needs a self-motivated watchdog agency to stop waste, mismanagement, abuse and fraud in executive-branch government,” it said in a May 7, 2012, news release. http://www.parlouisiana.com/explore.cfm/parpublications/commentariesandletters/100092

“Stephen Street… is a former criminal staff lawyer with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, a former public defender and a former Section Chief with the state Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Support Unit who handled white-collar prosecutions. He has extensive experience teaching courses on white-collar crime investigation,” the PAR release said.

“A sudden halt in funding of the Inspector General would terminate ongoing investigations and send a message nationwide that Louisiana government is open for corrupt or wasteful business. Lawmakers who oppose continued funding of the office while also criticizing particular ongoing investigations are running the risk of deeply politicizing the state’s law enforcement systems. If these efforts at shutting down the Inspector General’s office are successful, their effect will be to strongly encourage further political interference in the law enforcement profession throughout the state,” the release said.

James Gill, then a columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, wasn’t nearly as charitable. As only he can, Gill noted that Edmonson had exonerated and reinstated Browning even before Street’s investigation was complete. Then came Gill’s zinger: “Perhaps Edmonson forgot that he had claimed Browning’s resignation had nothing to do with the allegations against him.” http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2012/05/battle_over_funding_for_louisi.html

Gill quoted Harrison as claiming that he had thought for two years that Louisiana did not need an inspector general. “Anyone but a politician would be carted off to the funny farm for saying that,” he wrote, adding that despite Harrison’s claim that his amendment had nothing to do with Browning, he launched into “a passionate denunciation of the inspector general’s office over its treatment of browning.” Gill quoted Harrison as saying no good investigator “would bring it (the investigation) to this point without verifying information.”

“Even a politician deserves a trip to the funny farm for spouting such nonsense,” said Gill at his derisive best.

But even more to the point, Gill observed that “Since Browning has already been returned to duty, it may not matter much what conclusions the inspector general reaches.”

May not indeed. This administration is, after all, the gold standard of ethics.

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The controversy surrounding the sweeping changes being proposed for the Office of Group Benefits just got a little dicier with new information obtained by LouisianaVoice about the departure of Division of Administration executive counsel Liz Murrill and the possibly illegal destruction of public records from the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the involvement of at least two other state agencies.

While it was not immediately clear which OGB records were involved, information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Murrill refused to sign off on written authorization to destroy documents from OGB.

We first reported her departure on Oct. 14 and then on Oct. 22, we followed up with a report that Murrill had confided to associates that she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

But now we learn that the issue has spilled over into two other agencies besides OGB and DOA because of a state statute dealing with the retention of public documents for eventual delivery to State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.

Reports indicate that Schedler became furious when he learned of the destruction or planned destruction of the records because records should, according to R.S. 44:36, be retained for three years and then delivered to the state archivist and director of the division of Archives, records management and history. https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=99704

Schedler reportedly became so upset with the decision to destroy the records that he copied Attorney General Buddy Caldwell with a letter he wrote to Nichols directing that DOA comply with the statute but Caldwell for his part, refused to intervene, saying he did not want to become involved.

If that indeed is the case, then LouisianaVoice goes on record here and now as contending that Caldwell is unfit to serve in that capacity and should resign immediately.

We made every effort to allow Caldwell to respond. We called his office and asked to speak to Buddy Caldwell or his son, Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell. We were told, “We don’t put calls through to them; we take a message and they may call you back.” They never did. We also spoke with AG Press Secretary Laure Gerdes and explained the story we were working on and told her if we did not hear back from Caldwell, we would suggest that he was unfit to serve as AG. Again, we never heard back from either Caldwell.

The attorney general simply cannot cherry pick which laws he feels should be enforced and to allow the destruction of vital public documents, particularly at a time when so much raw emotion has erupted over changes to the OGB benefit structure. To sit idly back and allow the administration to flout the law in the faces of 230,000 OGB members, retirees and beneficiaries is unconscionable and if Caldwell allows such action without at least advising DOA of the consequences he is not worthy of calling himself a public servant. He should take his Elvis impersonation act back to Tallulah.

And if Caldwell is reluctant to give legal advice to DOA, then Hillar Moore, as District Attorney for the 19th Judicial District, has all the statutory authority required to prosecute state officials should he ever decide to exercise that authority. The state government, after all, is domiciled in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Too much is at stake and those records could hold the key to the motives behind the administration’s decision to dramatically increase co-pays and deductibles. LouisianaVoice made requests for certain OGB records on Oct. 14 and those records have yet to be produced by DOA. We have no way of knowing if the records we requested are part of those documents which were ordered destroyed but if so, we plan to initiate legal action against the state promptly.

DOA has been habitually reluctant to produce public records at our request in a timely manner and this action could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Without the support and backing of the state’s highest legal authority, we are powerless to force compliance other than through the courts.

But the question that should be uppermost in the minds of Louisiana’s citizens is this: If those records were important enough to fire an attorney over her refusal to sign off on their destruction or for that attorney to place her career in jeopardy over that same issue, we are more curious than ever to know the contents of those documents—and we have the right to know.

And even more significant in this entire affair, if Liz Murrill did in fact refuse to compromise herself and her reputation by refusing to sign off on an illegal act, then we can only say good for her! She has shown far more integrity than our attorney general.

 

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Liz Murrill, the texting attorney who advised Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) was not necessary because the changes in the state’s Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plans did not meet the legal definition of “rule,” is gone.

Murrill sparred verbally with legislators during the Sept. 25 hearing on the proposed changes to OGB coverage of state employees and retirees by the House Appropriations Committee, telling them the APA was unnecessary in order that the Division of Administration (DOA) might implement huge increases to co-pays and deductibles that OGB members would be required to pay.

Throughout emotional testimony by OGB members who said their health care expenses might exceed their monthly pensions and others who related problems experienced with MedImpact, the state’s $350 million pharmacy benefit manager, Murrill could be seen texting while seated immediately behind witnesses. One observer said virtually the entire DOA staff sitting in the audience was also texting during testimony but only Murrill was constantly visible on the video being streamed live via the Internet.

But as embarrassing as that should have been to the administration, it was probably her advice that the APA was legally unnecessary.

Even an attorney general’s opinion released on Sept. 23, two days before the Appropriations Committee hearing failed to convince Murrill of her shaky legal position.

The opinion said the Jindal administration simply ignored the APA which requires a certain amount of publicity, public comment and legislative review before policy changes can be adopted.

But Murrill was quick to voice her difference with Assistant Attorney General Emily Andrews who authored the opinion at the request of State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

“We fundamentally disagree that the schedule of benefits meets the legal definition of ‘rule’ in the APA,” she said, “because it does not apply to the general public or any subset of the regulated public.”

Both Nichols and Murrill were grilled by a procession of legislators at the hearing, many of whom were not members of the Appropriations Committee but nevertheless had questions they wanted to ask on behalf of constituents.

At the times the exchanges became tinged with poorly concealed animosity as Nichols and Murrill fielded questions from one legislator after another once OGB members were finished with their testimony. The pair allowed their contempt for legislators surface from time to time while Legislators let it be known that they were losing patience with Jindal and his minions.

Murrill, while at the witness table, adamantly refused to concede that APA was required to be adhered to but on Tuesday (Oct. 14), once DOA had been called out on the matter and Murrill was out of the picture, APA notices of intent began going out toe legislators.

Once away from the table and back in the audience, she resumed her texting.

Now she has all the time she needs for texting.

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