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Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

 

Pick your cliché:

Collective amnesia.

Circling the wagons.

Covering your backside.

Plausible deniability.

We’re all in this together.

Lying through your teeth.

The six members of the Legislative Conference Committee to a man have disavowed any knowledge as to which of them it was who introduced the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gave State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $30,000 per year retirement increase that experts say may have been unconstitutional on six separate fronts.

Short version? Someone’s lying.

Remember the Seven Dwarfs of Big Tobacco? They’re the executives of the seven different tobacco companies who figurative locked arms as they formed a united front behind Philip Morris USA President and CEO William Campbell when he told a congressional committee back in 1994, “I believe nicotine is not addictive.”

Now you have the Six Mental Midgets (and yes, we are fully aware that is not politically correct) of the Louisiana House and Senate who individually, have each denied to C.B. Forgotston any culpability in adding the amendment to Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell’s bill that was intended to address disciplinary procedures against police officers under investigation and, Morrell says, was in no way intended to address pensions.

Forgotston refers to the amendment as the “bastard amendment” because “nobody claims to be the father. Some have suggested that the amendment came about through artificial insemination (while) others said Immaculate Conception,” he said. (We choose not to print Forgotston’s notion, though we have to admit he may well be closer to the truth than any of the other theory.)

State Treasurer John Kennedy, following a meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) on Wednesday, said simply, “This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven.”

But if you accept the word of Sens. Morrell, Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna) at face value, you are left with few alternative explanations other than Forgotston’s R-rated suggestion.

The amendment, which Gov. Jindal quickly signed into law as Act 859, allows Edmonson to revoke his “irrevocable” decision made when he was a captain to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which allowed him to take more in salary but froze his retirement at the captain’s pay scale rate. By revoking that decision, he would allow his retirement benefits to be calculated at the higher rank of his current colonel’s pay, plus he would be allowed to add years of service and longevity pay. With 34 years of service, he would be qualified to retired at 100 percent of his $134,000 salary, an increase of $30,000 per year.

While each of the six Conference Committee members denies having offered up the amendment, Arnold would appear to be a prime suspect. It was he who spent all of 15 seconds explaining the amendment to the full House before its final passage. To hear his award-winning performance, click here: www.auctioneer-la.org/edmondson.mp3

But let’s not rule out the possibility that this amendment came straight from the Fourth Floor of the State Capitol. If Jindal wanted this (and it’s looking more and more as if that might be the case), it would be a simple matter of having one of his subordinates to insert the necessary language into the amendment for the governor, who can nevertheless maintain that “plausible deniability” as he scoots back to Iowa or D.C. (Think of the old TV thriller Mission Impossible and agent Phelps receiving his assignment on the self-destructing tape with his assignment ending with the disclaimer that the I.M. team will “disavow any knowledge” of his existence if he is captured.)

And let’s not forget Edmonson’s creative explanation. First, he says the amendment simply allows him to receive benefits to which he is fully entitled and then he denies asking for the special treatment. Ol’ Earl Long had a term for that kind doublespeak: “Catfish Mouth,” for the ability to “speak outta both sides of his mouth and whistle in the middle.”

First of all, we fail to comprehend how he feels he is “entitled” to the benefits considering the indisputable fact that he made the decision as a captain to enter DROP. There are scores of retired state troopers and thousands of retired state employees who would line up at the Capitol steps for the opportunity to change their minds on their DROP decisions of years ago. In fact, there have been several in recent years to attempt just that. Each one was rejected by the House and Senate retirement committees but that does make them one scintilla less deserving than Jindal’s shadow and former bodyguard for the LSU football coach.

And none of them—nay, not one—resides in a luxurious home with cooks, butlers and housekeepers—all provided at taxpayer expense.

“As someone who once worked for the legislature,” says Forgotston, “I find this entire episode very sad. It’s especially pathetic since the current legislators consider themselves as ‘reformers.’ If they want to see why Louisiana has a reputation for corruption, they should look into the mirror.”

He said all six members of the Conference Committee “claimed to be waiting on someone else to do something about the rip-off. The fact that none of the conferees claim the amendment serves to further destroy the integrity of the legislative process.  If the legislators want to attempt to mitigate the damage to the legislative process, there needs to be an internal investigation to determine how an amendment can get into legislation without any legislator offering it.”

He said that Arnold wrote him in an email that both he and Morrell had requested an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of the amendment.

“I told Arnold the AG cannot render an opinion on the constitutionality of any legislation. The reason (is because) the AG is required by the Constitution to defend all acts of the legislature, regardless of constitutionality or how dumb the legislation is,” Forgotston said. “Therefore, it is a conflict of interest for (the attorney general) to rule on a matter in which he may be called on to defend in court.”

He said the retirement system’s board has a fiduciary obligation to protect its assets. “It’s time for them to do so,” he said.

“The only way to make sure this rip-off doesn’t go forward is for the (LSPRS) board to litigate the constitutionality of Act 859 of the 2014 Regular Session,” Forgotston said. “A first-year law student could win the case. Maybe the AG will hire Jimmy Faircloth to defend the state. That would make it the closest thing to sure winner as it gets in the courts.

“If you know any State Troopers please forward this information to them; they are obviously better at getting people to confess than I am. That said, I have to admit getting that the truth from legislators is no job for rookies.”

No wonder James Gill calls Forgotston the “King of the Subversive Bloggers.”

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“Japs need not apply.”

That was the remark Japanese-American Rodger Asai overheard on the telephone during a call to a representative of Imperial Fire & Casualty of Opelousas while trying unsuccessfully to resolve a dispute with his insurer after tenants destroyed his rent home in Livingston Parish.

Asai, whose father and two uncles were among those recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal for their military service during World War II even as his father’s own parents and other family members were being held in internment camps, has been fighting Imperial for more than a year now over damages inflicted by unauthorized individuals who had taken occupancy of the home from the original tenants unbeknownst to Asai.

The original tenants had moved from the home because they were unable to afford the $1500 per month rent, Asai was told when he came to Louisiana from his home in Oregon to check on the house because the original tenant had fallen behind on his rent.

Asai was forced to obtain a court-ordered eviction notice to get the previously unknown occupant, Michael Wayne Keller, to leave the property.

Among other things, Keller, a man who served 19 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for manslaughter and felony theft, apparently kept a pit bulldog in a room where it was forced to relieve itself on the floor. Elsewhere in the house, flooring was ripped up, holes torn or punched in walls, ceiling fans ripped down, coolant drained from the central air conditioning unit until the unit’s motor seized up, cabinet doors ripped off their hinges, and electrical wiring cut—all part of normal wear and tear, according to Imperial’s claims adjuster.

Imperial’s adjuster refused to acknowledge the damage was caused by vandalism, describing it instead as “wear and tear” and inept remodeling efforts.

That “wear and tear” cost Asai $45,680 to repair—with him doing much of the work himself—and his mortgage and other bills for the past year added another $60,000 to the tab, he says.

Imperial originally set the rebuild cost of the house at $270,000 but after the vandalism claim was filed, downgraded the rebuild cost to $150,000 and ended up paying Asai only $4,672.01, which included the $3,000 policy limit for stolen equipment. Net payment by Imperial for property damage? $1,672.01.

Even more insulting, the insurance company initially paid only $672.06—and even that payment came with 46 cents postage due.

And the Louisiana Department of Insurance, which likes to boast that it serves the public, has been all but invisible.

http://ldi.louisiana.gov/consumers/miscellaneous_pubs.html

http://ldi.louisiana.gov/consumers/misc_pubs/HowToFileAnInsuranceComplaint.pdf

But then Imperial did make a point of spreading around more than $50,000 in campaign contributions to several politicians, including Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, Gov. Bobby Jindal and key legislators.

The trend in insurance companies’ tactic to delay and deny claims has its roots in a 1992 decision by Allstate Insurance to retain the services of McKenzie and Co. to revamp its business model that tilted the scales from favoring the policy holder to favoring the stockholder. From 1996, the year the McKenzie plan was fully implemented, until 2006, Allstate’s operating income jumped from $820 million to $27.4 billion, a 3,335 percent increase.

In 2004, the casualty insurance industry as a whole had total assets of $412.6 billion. In 2007, two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when claims should have held down profits, the industry’s total assets totaled $1.18 trillion, or more than a third of the entire federal budget for that year.

What does Asai’s fight with Imperial have to do with Allstate and McKenzie?

Plenty.

When other insurance companies, beginning with State Farm, Liberty Mutual, Farm Bureau, etc., saw the results to Allstate’s bottom line after implementation of the McKenzie plan, they all joined in lock step to adopt the same methods of dealing with claims: delay, deny, litigate.

The plan was revealed in a single slide (among some 12,500 slides obtained by New Mexico attorney David Berardinelli) developed by McKenzie which, among other things, listed “redefinition of claims benefits and payment approach” as its criteria to boosting insurance companies’ profits.

The next step was the development of a software program that could be tweaked by insurance managers to reflect the desired percentage reduction in claim payments in order to keep the bottom line healthy.

Former Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti filed lawsuits against Allstate, State Farm, Allstate, and three other companies in 2007, claiming the insurers were skewing home repair estimates with programs like Xactimate and IntegriClaim, in order to boost profits. Insurers, he said, use the programs to deliberate underestimate building and rebuilding claims.

http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/11/attorney_general_files_lawsuit.html

http://www.farmersinsurancegroupsucks.com/lawsuit/louisiana_state_v_farmers_insurance.pdf

The lawsuit was dismissed the following year.

http://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/features/2009/01/11/157520.htm

The business plan originated by McKenzie reaped huge rewards in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita as unpaid or underpaid homeowners claims left entire neighborhoods ravaged and rotting.

If, for example, an Allstate adjuster found that wind caused damage, Allstate would have to pay the claim. If, however, the adjuster could attribute the damage to flooding, then the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), underwritten by American taxpayers, would have to foot the bill.

So, by changing the engineering reports, Berardinelli said, Allstate was able to deny claims altogether when the policyholder had no flood coverage.

Moreover, Allstate also devised two different formulae for pricing damage repair costs, thanks to an arrangement the company had with NFIP which paid Allstate fees for handling flood claims. That fee depended on the gross amount of the claim.

Ergo, if Allstate wound up on the hook for wind damage, it set the payment under the customer’s homeowner policy for, say, removing and replacing drywall at 76 cents per square foot.

If, however, the damage was attributed to flood waters and the taxpayers picked up the tab, the price was set at $3.31 per square foot. Allstate wins either way—by keeping claims costs down on wind damage and collecting inflated costs on taxpayer-financed flood damage repair.

So, now, we come to the inspection report by Imperial Fire & Casualty’s contract adjuster Paul A. Scull of Alexandria.

Scull, who works for American Delta Insurance (and apparently a second independent adjusting firm, according to records provided by the Secretary of State’s office), and whose previous experience was that of owner of a limousine service in Alexandria, attributed the torn up wooden parquet flooring and carpeting to shoddy remodeling efforts and added, “It is not reasonable to believe that someone intentionally removed or broke one or two ceiling fan blades, or precariously removed the ceiling fans or fixtures with the intent to harm someone or damage or destroy.”

Apparently Scull has never visited rent homes where tenants went on a destructive tear on the way out the door. There was one home in Denham Springs several years ago—what had been a reasonably upscale home—in which the tenants had ripped out all the electrical wiring, torn down all the ceiling fans and light fixtures, destroyed appliances and had thrown it all, along with assorted pieces of furniture, into the backyard swimming pool.

But that was most probably normal wear and tear.

As for the “Japs need not apply” comment overheard by Asai in his call to Imperial claims representative Billy Durel (and to be fair, Asai said he is not sure if the comment was made by Durel or someone in his office), we would most likely attribute that to pure bigotry.

Bigotry and ignorance.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal, with the signing of House Bill 799, has continued his assault on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), underscoring the importance and power of special interest money over the welfare of the state.

HB 799, authored by Rep. Stuart J. Bishop (R-Lafayette), bars the Louisiana attorney general from hiring plaintiff attorneys on a contingency-fee basis to pursue litigation against corporations like Chinese dry wall manufacturers responsible for millions of dollars in damages to new homes in Louisiana, pharmaceutical companies accused of price fraud at the wholesale level and of selling pharmaceutical products not approved by the federal government, companies found to be improperly handling underground storage tanks, or tobacco companies whose seven top executives (to evermore be known as the “seven dwarves”) lied under oath to Congress in saying nicotine was not addictive.

Bishop cited fees of $51.4 million paid state-contracted attorneys in a case against the pharmaceutical industry that resulted in a $285 million verdict. That computes to a fee of about 18 percent as compared to the 30 percent norm usually charged by attorneys hired on contingency.

A $235.7 million settlement of another pharmaceutical case resulted in attorney fees of $46.6 million, or 19.7 percent. The Coalition for Common Sense, a group describing itself as committed to a fair legal climate said another portion of that settlement went to repay two-thirds of the state’s Medicaid expenses. The coalition said that bumped the legal fees up to 34.2 percent, but without further clarification, it seems difficult to equate Medicaid fees to legal fees. That would seem to come under the purview of Jindal’s continued mismanagement of the state’s Medicaid program.

In yet another case, attorneys, including Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s campaign treasurer and other contributors, received $4 million in fees, or 9.4 percent, of a $42.5 million case.

Granted, it doesn’t look good for Caldwell’s campaign treasurer to receive a contract but the obvious question is how is that any different than Jindal’s former executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth getting contracts to represent the state in one losing case after another—at fees which now exceed $1 million?

Jindal’s penchant for protecting the oil companies, who have contributed more than $1 million to his various campaigns, is by now well-known. His largesse has even extended to BP which may have negated pending claims against the company for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and pumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

The fact that the governor’s brother works for BP, of course, had nothing to do with Jindal’s decision to sign Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) which killed the SLFPA-E lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for damages inflicted to Louisiana’s coastline and marshlands. SB 469 also made the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was nipped in the bud.

(Allain, by the way, was the one who slipped that $2 million appropriation into the 2013 Capital Outlay Bill to renovate the third floor of an old elementary school in Franklin for conversion to a museum to house the archives of former Gov. Mike Foster who will now become the only governor in Louisiana history to have his archives housed in something other than a university library.)

Jindal, in signing SB 469 into law, said the law would stop “unnecessary frivolous lawsuits.”

Allain, also invoking the “frivolous lawsuit” catch phrase, also said if allowed to stand, it would “hurt jobs.”

Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), who lobbied for the bill and who has been the beneficiary of more than $600,000 in oil and gas campaign contributions, said, “This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this state and trying to raise money through illegal actions.”

Perhaps Sen. Adley should take a long inward look at misrepresenting the state and raising campaign money through legal but questionable means.

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs called Jindal’s signing of the bill “a huge victory for the oil and gas industry.”

You think?

What all three men seem to have overlooked is that when companies that traditionally reap billions in quarterly profits each year walk away from their responsibilities to repair damage they inflict on the environment in their non-stop quest for even more profits, then sometimes those “greedy lawyers” need to step up and hold these companies accountable.

And of course there was SB 667 which neutered the so-called “legacy lawsuits” over environmental damage from oil and gas companies’ tendency to walk away from well sites on private property without bothering to restore the property to its original condition.

And let’s never forget that a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to oppose environmental protections, be they EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases or legacy lawsuits. At the top of ALEC’s membership list in leading the fight against environmental laws, and the rights to hold corporations legally accountable are such familiar corporations as Exxon/Mobil, BP, Chevron, Shell and, of course, Koch Industries.

At least two of those legacy lawsuits succeeded before SB 667 was signed into law by Jindal.

  • The first, a $76 million award, was litigated by Lake Charles attorney J. Michael Veron on behalf of family members whose property was heavily polluted—and subsequently abandoned—by Shell Oil. Veron authored a book entitled Shell Game about the litigation. In the book, he describes in detail how he was called into then-Gov. Foster’s office and lectured to like a misbehaving schoolboy. Despite the heavy pressure from Foster, Veron persisted and eventually won.

Foster, of course, is the one responsible for our present predicament: he discovered Jindal—“the smartest man I ever met,” he said—and appointed him head of the Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24.

  • The second case was that of Bill Doré, retired chairman of Global Industries of Sulphur. Doré made a fortune from the Southwest Louisiana oil patch but when he purchased Cameron Meadows in Cameron Parish with the intent of constructing a hunting lodge, he discovered the land had been polluted by oil companies to such an extent that alligator, fish and other wildlife populations had dwindled significantly and that wherever he stepped on the property, oil and brine would ooze to the surface. He sued Exxon/Mobil whose executives promptly summoned him to Houston for a come to Jesus meeting at which they informed him that if he continued on his quixotic quest, he would lose valuable Exxon/Mobil business. He more or less told the Exxon/Mobil suits what they could do with their business, which amounted to some $37 million over the years. He reminded them that because Exxon, the richest company on earth, insisted on such rigid contract firms by forcing vendors to accept smaller margins as the cost of doing volume business with them, Global had actually lost $7 million on its Exxon/Mobil business. Represented by New Orleans attorney Gladstone Jones, the same attorney representing SLPFA-E, Doré won a $57 million judgment against the giant oil company.

In an interesting side bar to the story, a small Cameron café catered the meals for both sides and the jurors during the protracted Doré trial. Attorneys for both sides agreed to split the cost of having meals for both sides. Following the two-week trial and after each side had paid its share of the costs, Doré’s legal team gave the café’s staff a $1,000 tip. The tip from attorneys for Exxon/Mobil was $20—almost as if the café’s staff was responsible for the adverse verdict.

So now, it comes full circle.

The SLPFA-E board, stacked with Jindal appointees after he replaced rebel John Barry, the leading proponent of the litigation, voted 4-4 last week on a motion to withdraw the suit. While a majority was required for passage, it appears to be academic. Jindal’s signing of SB 469 would seem to ring the death knell for any future legal action.

So now, the state is virtually powerless to seek remediation for damages done to our coastline such as that depicted in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaW1DomWRk4

Greedy lawyers? Frivolous lawsuits?

So, where does all that special interest money we alluded to in the first paragraph come in?

Well, LouisianaVoice has already provided an itemized list of oil and gas industry contributions to each of the state’s 144 legislators that totals more than $5.2 million and we earlier cited contributions to Jindal in excess of $1 million from the same industry.

But how did the contributions break out on the House and Senate votes on the infamous SB 469?

We’re glad you asked. We’ve done the math for you.

In the senate, the 25 senators who voted in favor of the bill killing the SLPFA-E litigation received $1.99 million from oil and gas interests, or an average of $79,664 each.

The 11 who voted against killing the lawsuit combined to receive $591,000, or $53,769 each—a difference of nearly $26,000 each.

Now let’s stroll across the Capitol Rotunda to the House side where vote-buying is a little less expensive, more economical if you will.

The 59 members who voted in favor of SB 469 combined to rake in $1.885 million, or just a tad under $32,000 each while the 39 nay votes took in $889,281 between them, or an average take of $23,402, a difference of about $9,600 each.

Moreover, during debate on SB 469, the State Capitol was swarming with lobbyists from BP, which stood to benefit mightily from passage of the bill.

So, you see, it’s really pretty evident that money—lots of it—tends to flow freely in the Capitol and its influence is completely out of kilter with the intent of a democratic republic. We no longer have a representative government for the people but a representative government for those who can wave the most money under the noses of our elected officials.

As one legislator who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous as to his name, the area of the state he represents and even the chamber in which he sits, said in a recent email to a constituent:

“When a fella has the oil and gas lobbyists, the LABI lobbyists, and the governor’s office all on the same team and wanting you to be on the same team, well, it was a challenging last few days of the session.  I thought then, and I still hold the belief, that this is a bad bill (now a law since Gov. Jindal has now signed it) and sets a horrible precedent.  Again, this administration has assured another legal challenge to a law it supported and I expect a lawsuit to be filed before long.

“I appreciate your taking time to send me your email.  When I was down there surrounded by many who were interested in me only for the vote of the moment, expressions such as yours remind me of my commitment to the good people of the district I serve and confirms that, in the face of all those present in the Capitol during the session, I was sent there to represent those who can’t be there.”

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The brewing legal battle between Louisiana automobile body shops, represented by the Louisiana Collision Industry Association (LaCIA), and a couple of dozen insurance companies has far reaching implications that go much further than just the current dispute between the LaCIA and the insurance companies, according to information obtained by LouisianaVoice.

Efforts by the automobile insurance companies, led by industry giants State Farm, Allstate, Progressive and GEICO, date back to the 1990s and continued through Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and now the companies have moved into what one LouisianaVoice reader calls managed care for the auto repair business by the insurance industry.

Along the way, the insurance companies received invaluable assistance and coaching from McKinsey and Co., the company for whom Gov. Jindal worked for several months in his only private sector gig before entering public service. The advice provided by McKinsey came at a steep price but in the end, it helped the insurance companies to reap record profits, even in the wake of Katrina, one of the worst hurricanes in terms of dollar cost to ever strike the U.S. mainland—at the expense of thousands of homeowners in New Orleans, New York and New Jersey and the Mississippi coast.

Between 1992 through 1997, Allstate executives and their consultants from McKinsey met at the Allstate’s Northbrook, Ill., campus, to develop a complete overhaul of Allstate’s claims system. What emerged was the now infamous policy of “from good hands to boxing gloves” method of dealing with policy holders/claimants who refused the company’s initial settlement offers, which typically were far below replacement costs.

In 2003, the largest wildfire in California history destroyed 2,232 homes, including Julie Tunnel’s $300,000 home. Her insurance adjuster, from State Farm, offered her $184,000 as a cost of rebuilding. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=nw&pname=mm_0907_story1.html

That “deny, delay, defend” strategy was revealed in its stark nakedness when it was learned that McKinsey was coaching Allstate and State Farm on methods to delay and/or deny claims of homeowners in the New Orleans and north shore areas and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who suffered devastating property losses during Hurricane Katrina. One of those victimized by the less-than-good-faith-dealings was none other than then U.S. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.

It was in the wake of $4.2 billion in claims stemming from 1989’s Hurricane Hugo which battered the Carolinas that Allstate first sought the services of McKinsey and State Farm quickly followed suit. McKinsey subsequently generated 13,000 pages of documents, including PowerPoint slides in developing the strategy for higher profits which would quickly give the two giants the distinction of ranking among the worst insurance companies in America. Those rankings placed Allstate at the top of the worst list and State Farm fourth. http://www.justice.org/cps/rde/justice/hs.xsl/2323.htm

With Allstate’s CEO proclaiming that the company’s mission was “to earn a return for our shareholders” (as opposed say, to such a radical philosophy as customer service, good faith settlements and claimant satisfaction), Good Hands adjusters worked under strict guidelines to protect the bottom line or risk losing their jobs. http://stlouis.legalexaminer.com/automobile-accidents/allstate-you-are-not-in-good-hands/

So by virtue of its adjusters’ adoption of the fundamental mantra of “Allstate gains—others must lose,” the company reaped $4.6 billion in profits in 2007, even as it was still denying, delaying and defending against record property loss claims from Katrina just two years before and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2006. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/13/insurance-claim-delays-industry-profits-allstate-mckinsey-company_n_1139102.html

Almost unperceptively to all but auto repair shops and their customers, the insurance companies also embarked upon a similar ploy to increase profits in the area of auto insurance while at the same time forcing auto body shops into accepting considerably lower profits or to use less desirable after-market, or generic, parts.

New Jersey auto repair shops have sharply criticized State Farm’s cozy relationship with a company called Parts Trader, an online procurement program out of Illinois. Spokesmen for auto repair associations in both New Jersey and Mississippi claim the forced implementation of the Parts Trader program is in direct violation of a 1963 Consent Decree and is State Farm’s way “to get back into the aftermarket parts business and not have their handprint on it.”

“The profit we make on our parts goes to offset the insufficient labor rate,” said Jeff McDowell, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers. “Materials go up, and we don’t get an increase.” http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/Partstrader+In+New+Jersey%3F++Not+Without+A+Fight!+/1519060/0/article.html

In October of 1999, CBS News reported that an Illinois judge awarded $730 million to State Farm policyholders whose vehicles were repaired with after-market parts. It was the second such decision within a week. Just days before, a jury awarded $456 million in another case involving knockoff replacement parts. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/state-farm-loses-big-in-court/

Immediately following the two adverse decisions, State Farm announced it would temporarily suspend the use of the after-market parts in favor of parts made by auto manufacturers—the moral equivalent of a politician’s apologizing for his inexcusable behavior only after being caught in an extra-marital affair.

The generic parts have come under criticism from auto body shops as being cheap, flimsy, imitation parts that don’t fit and which have poor finishes, don’t hold paint, have little, if any, corrosion protection and which lack structural integrity.

But in the interest of their own bottom line, the insurance companies were perfectly willing to foist these parts upon their unsuspecting policyholders who simply grit their teeth and write the checks whenever premiums increase.

But with the filing of lawsuits last August in Mississippi http://partschecklive.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/partstrader-ms.pdf and in Florida here and Indiana here earlier this year by auto repair shops—and the expected filing in Louisiana—the repair shops are teaming up to present a united front against yet another profit-driven tactic by the insurance companies: forcing shops to either reduce their hourly labor charges or risk having business directed to other shops by the insurers.

The Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) issued a strong statement in opposition to the practice of the insurers last September in which it said the organization “takes exception to business mandates that property and casualty insurers impose upon collision repair businesses. http://www.fenderbender.com/FenderBender/September-2013/SCRS-Releases-Statement-About-State-Farm-PartsTrader-Lawsuit/

Apparently the insurance companies have no problem with the concept that auto repair shops should be prohibited from making a fair profit—especially if benefits their own shareholders.

Complaints to the Louisiana Department of Insurance, meanwhile, have fallen upon deaf ears, according to several shop owners.

Small wonder. As might be expected, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon derives the bulk of his campaign contributions from the companies his office regulates. Who else, after all, would be motivated to contribute to the campaign to elect an insurance commissioner?

But even Gov. Bobby Jindal has benefitted from the generosity of the insurance industry to the tune of $119,000 since his initial run for governor in 2003. Of that amount, at least $15,000 came from three companies named as defendants in the Florida and Indiana lawsuits: $5,000 each from State Farm, Allstate, and Zurich American.

Donelon, who would be expected to fair even better from the insurance industry, did. He received $30,000 from defendants in the Indiana and Florida lawsuits—Liberty Mutual ($5,000), Progressive ($6,500), Allstate ($2,500), GEICO ($11,000), State Farm ($2,500), Security National ($1,500), and Travelers ($1,000).

Overall, Donelon has received more than $675,000 from insurance companies just since 2006, the year he took office.

Attorney General investigator Randy Ishee has been looking into the practice, called program agreements, whereby the insurance companies are demanding that repair shops enter into agreements to lower their hourly rates or be faced with blackballing by the insurers. One representative for the repair shops said a State Farm representative became belligerent while making his demands.

Alysia Hanks, executive director of the Louisiana Collision Industry Association (LaCIA), said Ishee’s probe has developed so much information that he found it necessary to recruit a second investigator to assist him.

LouisianaVoice was told that Ishee had communicated in writing with the Department of Insurance on at least two occasions concerning the program agreements but when a public records request for those communications was made of the Insurance Department, we were told the department was in possession of no such documents.

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Unlike a good neighbor, State Farm Insurance may be trying to undermine policyholders’ choices of who they want to perform their auto repairs.

And those Good Hands may not be so good, either.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell apparently is preparing to join other states, namely Indiana and Florida, in filing an antitrust lawsuit against State Farm and possibly other insurance companies for their attempts to artificially control and depress automotive damage repair labor rates by repair shops, according to information obtained by LouisianaVoice.

Caldwell’s office has been bombarded with complaints from automotive body shops that State Farm and other companies have attempted to get shops to sign “program agreements” with the insurance companies that would adversely impact profit margins of the repair shops. Those who refuse to sign the program agreements are removed from the insurance companies’ preferred lists, the complaints say, in effect, driving business away from those shops.

Attorneys in Florida and Indiana claim in their lawsuits that the insurance companies, particularly State Farm, have engaged in “an ongoing pattern and practice of coercion and of implied threats” to force lower hourly rates. “Failure to comply results in the insurance companies either “steering” customers away from the plaintiff’s businesses or, failing that, refusing to pay for certain repair procedures and/or charges.

By forcing the program agreements upon the shops, which count on insurance customers for 70 to 95 percent of their business, the shops’ profits are adversely affected but the shops have little choice but to comply.

While State Farm has been identified as the moving force behind the program agreements, other insurers follow State Farm’s lead, the Florida lawsuit claims, “The remaining defendants intentionally and by agreement and/or conscious parallel behavior, specifically advised the plaintiffs they will pay no more than State Farm pays for labor,” the lawsuit says, adding that the insurance companies have conducted no surveys of their own to determine market rates.

The Florida suit also claims that the insurance companies imply that the non-cooperating body shops perform inferior work. “When a repair shop is deemed noncompliant to the direct repair agreement, the insurer will tell its clients ‘a particular chosen shop is not on the preferred provider list,’ advising that quality issues have arisen with that particular ship, that complaints have been received about the shop from other consumers, that the shop charges more than any other shop in the area and these additional costs will have to be paid by the consumers, that repairs at the disfavored shop will take much longer than at other, preferred shops and the consumer will be responsible for rental car fees beyond a certain date, and that the defendant cannot guarantee the work of that shop as it can at other shops,” the Florida petition says.

Trying to control auto repair prices is one thing but doing it by spreading innuendo and outright falsehoods about the reputations of auto body shops and the quality of their work borders on outright libel.

The Florida lawsuit was filed by 20 auto repair shops on Feb. 24 in that state’s Middle District Federal Court in Orlando and names more than 40 companies as defendants. A&E Auto Body, Inc., is the lead plaintiff in the Florida action.

Fourteen Indiana repair shops, led by lead plaintiff the Indiana Autobody Association, followed Florida in filing suit on April 2 in the Southern District of U.S. District Court in Indianapolis and named as defendants 29 insurance companies but also allege similar issues with third-party administrators (TPAs) which handle glass claims for insurers.

“…The concessions demanded by insurers in exchange for remaining on the direct repair program were not balanced by the purported benefits,” the Indiana petition says. “The defendants, particularly State Farm, have utilized these agreements to exert control over the shops in a variety of manners, and well beyond the constraints imposed by an ordinary business agreement.”

The Indiana plaintiffs claim that failure or refusal by a shop “results in either removal from the DRP (direct repair program) agreements, combined with improper ‘steering’ of customers away from the plaintiff’s business, or simply punishment to decrease the number of customers utilizing the plaintiff’s services.”

The suit ways if a repair shop persists in efforts to raise labor rates, “State Farm takes one or more ‘corrective measures.’

“It (State Farm) will go into the individual shop’s survey responses and unilaterally and wrongfully alter the labor rate listed without the knowledge or consent of the shop and use this lowered rate to justify its determination of the ‘market rate.’ It will threaten to remove the shop from the direct repair program to coerce compliance,” the petition said, adding that State Farm will actually remove a shop from the DRP.

Both the Florida and Indiana lawsuits are seeking compensatory damages and Florida is asking the court to order that insurers cease the practice of steering. In Indiana, plaintiffs are seeking compensatory, punitive and treble damages.

Caldwell and Randy Ishee, an investigator for the attorney general’s office, will attend the next meeting of the Louisiana Collision Industry Association (LaCIA), scheduled for May 22 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Monroe at 6:30 p.m.

LaCIA Executive Director Alysia Hanks said the association has been in contact with Ishee, who she said “has knowledge of what our industry is going through. “He isn’t happy with what he has come across so far and last week in informed me that, due to the huge amount of information he is gathering, (the attorney general’s office) has brought in another investigator for our cases.”

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A company holding two state contracts worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rollout late last year, LouisianaVoice has learned.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec Province, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

The largest tech firm in Canada, CGI also has offices in the Washington, D.C. area—Fairfax and Manassas, VA., Washington and Baltimore, and is part of the CGI Group which has 72,000 employees in 400 offices worldwide—many of those in India.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI also has a $300,000 contract with the Office of Information Services to provide technical support for the Division of Administration’s (DOA) advanced financial system (AFS). That contract is set to expire on June 30.

The state also has a $20 million contract with Hunt Guillot & Associates of Ruston through OCD and DRU for grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages resulting from hurricanes Katrina, Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008.

The Hunt, Guillot contract was first issued for $18.2 million on Oct. 31, 2007—just 10 months after Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, and called for the firm to work in program design, the pre-application and application process, pre-construction and construction of projects related to hurricane recovery. That contract expired on Oct. 30, 2010, but the company was awarded a subsequent contract of $1 million on Dec. 1, 2009 which called for it to review applications for grant funds pursuant to the hazard mitigation grant.

It was not immediately clear how much, if any, overlap there might be between the CGI and Hunt, Guillot contracts, if one was intended to augment the other, or if the two are completely separate, unrelated contracts.

What is clear is that in April of 2013, less than a year ago, the Legislative Auditor issued a report which indicated the state could be on the hook for a minimum of $116 million and possibly as much as $600 million in improperly received or misspent disaster aid following Katrina and Rita.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/04/louisiana_on_for_misspent_road.html.

State auditors reviewed 24 loans to property owners through the state’s Small Rental Property Program. The state had allocated $663 million to the program and of the 24 cases reviewed, none had been flagged as problematic by OCD. Though only 24 cases were reviewed, more than 8,000 properties benefitted from the assistance program—increasing the likelihood that the total number and amount of improper payments could go significantly higher.

OCD Executive Director Patrick Forbes said rather than attempt to chase down homeowners to retrieve the misspent funds, he intends to change OCD regulations to provide more assistance to homeowners before “triggering the recapture of funds.”

Despite that statement of intent, a month after that audit report, on May 21, the administration issued a $600,000 contract to the Baton Rouge law firm of Shows, Cali & Walsh to “review and analyze Road Home files for overpayments, ineligible grantees, etc., (and to) negotiate and collect funds due to the state.”

Shows, Cali & Wash, meanwhile, has its own problems stemming from a federal judge’s findings that it manipulated evidence in a federal lawsuit by three death row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/03/baton-rouge-law-firm-with-3-million-in-state-contracts-faces-legal-sanctions-over-evidence-manipulation-in-angola-lawsuit/.

Meanwhile, the ObamaCare project—healthcare.com—disaster appears to have had caused a negative impact on employee morale at CGI, according to a staff worker who asked not to be identified. “There’s a lot of frustration,” he said. “People are getting sick, fainting in conference calls.”

Employee turnover is said to be high at CGI, making matters more complicated when trying to assemble a web page for the health-care exchange. Despite that, the upper management mentality at CGI appears to work toward establishing relations “so intimate with the client that decoupling becomes almost impossible,” according to one company profile. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/16/meet-cgi-federal-the-company-behind-the-botched-launch-of-healthcare-gov/.

CGI was hired by the Hawaii Health Connector, that state’s new health exchange for providing insurance options under ObamaCare, to build its website and the state portal, like HealthCare.gov, had immediate problems when it launched on Oct. 1, 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/23/red-flags-company-behind-obamacare-site-has-checkered-past/.

“The morning I heard CGI was behind (the Obamacare web page development), I said, ‘My God, no wonder that thing doesn’t work,’” said James Bagnola, a Texas corporate consultant who was hired by the Hawaii Department of Taxation in 2008. “The system is broken all the time.” Bagnola said CGI was able to continue work on the Hawaii project despite repeated managerial complaints and a “corrosive environment” in which state employees felt pitted against CGI staff.

CGI’s contract to design and execute a new $46.2 million diabetes registry for eHealth Ontario, part of the Canadian government health care system, was canceled in September of 2012 after a series of delays that rendered the system obsolete.

The state of Vermont as recently as last October, meanwhile, was considering whether or not to penalize CGI for not meeting deadlines for designing and producing that state’s health care exchange as per an $84 million contract with the company.

It may be too early to say that there is an “ominous pattern” of inferior work product from CGI as claimed by some http://www.examiner.com/article/is-cgi-and-white-house-liable-for-obamacare-massive-site-failure and http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/fobbs/131028 but there can be no denial that the failed debut of the ObamaCare web page has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Which raises the obvious question: What quality of work Louisiana is receiving from the firm? Considering last April’s findings of the Legislative Auditor in its examination of the Road Home program, that’s a fair question.

Contractors are being paid tens of millions of dollars to provide oversight of the grant programs in the hurricane recovery efforts. But what oversight is being provided of the contractors themselves? And if the contractors need oversight, why are they even in the equation to begin with?

How do we know they are doing the jobs they are being paid to do?

If we are to believe the auditor’s report, they well may not be giving the state a return on its dollar.

Are contracts simply being doled out by the Jindal administration with little or no vetting? When one looks at some of the other contracts awarded since 2008, there seems to be ample cause for concern.

All one has to do is study the administration’s smarmy record of questionable contracts, beginning with the hiring of Goldman Sachs to help write the request for proposals (RFP) for the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). Who was the sole bidder on that project at the outset before the project was re-bid? Goldman Sachs. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/01/jindal-and-rainwater-preoccupied-with-ogb-privatization-missed-or-chose-to-ignore-obvious-cnsi-contract-red-flags/

And then there was the infamous contract with CNSI http://www.frontpagemag.com/2013/volpe/billionaire-swindlers-line-up-for-obamacare/

and the ensuing investigation by the FBI  http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/fbireportscnsi3.pdf

http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/dt-common-streams-streamserver1.pdf and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/ldoj-interview-report-on-cnsi-from-0514121.pdf

There also is a series of contracts with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), since absorbed by Xerox. ACS, once represented by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy’s sister-in-law Jan Cassidy who now works for the Division of Administration (DOA) as Assistant Commissioner in Procurement and Technology at an annual salary of $150,000). http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jan-cassidy/6/4aa/703

ACS also has its own string of problems as evidenced by stories from other states http://louisianavoice.com/2013/03/15/doa-hires-jan-cassidy-sister-in-law-of-cong-bill-cassidy-at-150000-previous-employers-records-are-less-than-stellar/ and with the Securities Exchange Commission http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21643.htm

Not to be outdone, Deloitte Consulting which helped the state in planning for a comprehensive consolidation of information technology (IT) services for DOA, was named winner of the state contract for “Information Technology Planning and Management Support Services,” according to an email announcement that went out to IT employees last September.

Never mind the fact that Deloitte Consulting has experienced a multitude of problems in North Carolina, California, Tennessee, and Virginia because of delays, false starts and cost overruns. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/05/surprise-surprise-gomer-deloitte-wins-it-contract-after-spending-year-consulting-with-state-on-consolidation-plan/

And yet this governor is so unyielding in his misguided belief that the private sector can perform any and every governmental function better than public employees that now, six years into his eight-year term, he has decided pay yet another contractor, the international consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, $4 million to conduct an efficiency study to determine possible savings in state government.

Clueless, thy name is Jindal.

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Something’s not quite right over at the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC).

Conflicting dates of employment of an unclassified employee, the awarding of a contract to a vendor whose bid was nearly twice that of two competitors, and appearances on behalf of a state contractor at a Florida convention by a state legislator have flown under the radar until now.

Wes Hataway is Director of the Office of Workers Compensation Administration but the question is just when did he join LWC?

Department of Civil Service records and minutes of the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council simply do not match up.

Civil Service records indicate that Hataway was hired as an unclassified Assistant Attorney General on Jan. 25, 2010 at $93,600 per year and 13 months later, on Feb. 21, 2011, moved over to LWC as an unclassified Assistant Secretary to then advisory council Chairman Chris Broadwater at an annual salary of $105,000.

Here is what we received from the Department of Civil Service:

“See information below on Wes Hataway. Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.”

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Annual Pay Rate
1/25/2010 2/20/2011 Office of the Attorney   General Unclassified Asst Attorney   General 90,000.04 (begin)93,600.26 (end)
2/21/2011 Present LWC-Workforce Support &   Training Unclassified Assistant   Secretary 104,998.40

And indeed, there is a paper trail that appears to support that time frame. A two-page score sheet that evaluated proposals for a fraud detection contract with LWC dated June 22, 2010, includes the signature of Hataway and identifies him as one of the four-member team that evaluated and made recommendations for the contract. It also identifies him as representing the Attorney General’s Office—six months after he was ostensibly named as legal council for the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC).

(To enlarge, left click on image):

PTDC0124

PTDC0125

But another document dated Jan. 28, 2010, casts doubts as to Hataway’s status at LWC.

Minutes of the Jan. 28, 2010, meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council contain an entry on the fourth and final page which says, “Director Broadwater introduces newly hired AG attorney, Wes Hataway. Wes will serve as General Counsel, and also work on the prosecution of fraud cases.”

MinutesAdvisoryCouncilJan2810

Hataway has since replaced Broadwater as Director of OWC but he regularly consults with Broadwater on pending matters coming before him, according to court documents, according to legal documents.

Broadwater, a Republican from Hammond, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2011 but continues to represent workers’ comp insurance companies before the Office of Workers’ Compensation, the agency he once ran.

Broadwater also appeared in a four-minute video at an SAS Institute conference in Orlando, Florida. In that video, he praised the work of the company, which won that 2010 contract with a high bid of nearly $4.3 million.  http://www.allanalytics.com/video.asp?section_id=3427&doc_id=269491#msgs

The three-year contract, which was officially approved on Oct. 7, 2010 retroactive to Aug. 31, 2010, ended last Aug. 30.

The SAS bid was nearly double the bids of IBM and Ultix, each of whom had bids of $2.2 million.

Broadwater, Vice Chairman of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, said in a letter to LouisianaVoice, “My service as vice chair of the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee in no manner alters my duties or the constraints placed upon me under the Code of Governmental Ethics.”

And while claiming that he is prohibited from receiving compensation “from a source other than the legislature for performing my public duties,” he admitted in a legal deposition that he represented insurance clients before OWC and he even admitted that he discussed with Hataway the pending appointment of his former law partner and that he has discussed with Hataway on several occasions matters pending before OWC.

Broadwater also related that Hataway had sought his advice on whether or not he (Hataway) had the authority as director to issue a stay of pending cases without involving the judges to whom the cases were assigned. Broad said in his deposition that he was of the opinion that Hataway did have such power.

Broadwater and Hataway are friends of long standing but that does little to explain why Broadwater would introduce him to council members as a new hire a full year before Civil Service Records and the RFP evaluation and recommendation form reflect any change from his employment status at the Attorney General’s office.

Calling the conflicting dates a clerical error doesn’t fly but then again, it could be just another aspect of the current administration that defies explanation.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal has this cool web page on which he is conscientious about posting the latest updates about all the wonderful things going on in Louisiana, thanks in large part to his diligent work on behalf of the state.

The web page, of course, has the requisite “donate” button on which to click to make contributions—ostensibly for his long-anticipated presidential campaign since his last run for governor was more than two years ago and he’s term limited from running again.

The web page is paid for by Friends of Bobby Jindal, Inc., AKA the Committee to Re-Elect Bobby Jindal, Inc. Records filed with the Secretary of State indicate the agent for the organization is David Woolridge of the law firm Roedel, Parsons, Koch, Blanche, Balhoff, and McCollister. Officers include Alexandra “Allee” Bautsch, finance director (also Jindal’s campaign finance director), deputy finance director Erin Riecke, and Melvin Kendal.

Strangely enough, even though Friends of Bobby Jindal solicits contributions through the web page, there apparently have been no campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Ethics Commissions. All contributions and expenditures are listed in Jindal’s name individually and not in Friends of Bobby Jindal or the Committee to Re-Elect Bobby Jindal.

You can check out his page right here  http://www.bobbyjindal.com/ to see glowing reports on the following projects:

  • The South African energy company Sasol’s integrated gas-to-liquids and chemicals project n Louisiana was named Foreign Direct Investment Deal of the Year (no mention of how many jobs that would actually produce for the state).
  • Industrial Valve Production Co. Cortec will build a new distribution facility in Louisiana which will create a whopping 70 jobs.
  • A New York Post editorial has praised Jindal for his efforts to crack down on abuse in the state’s food stamp program (abuse, by the way, which pales in comparisons to the costs of that CNSI contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals, corporate tax breaks and legislators recently exposed for using campaign funds to pay for private vehicles, auto insurance, and LSU football tickets).

And while we certainly appreciate his dedication to keeping us informed, we can’t help but notice that he missed a couple of recent developments. And because we’re here to help, we are more than happy to fill in the blanks so that you, the reader, may remain informed about our state.

  • Speaking of CNSI, writer Michael Volpe penned an interesting story on Friday, Nov. 22 when he wrote that CNSI, one of the subcontractors working on the Obamacare website, is currently under investigation by the FBI in Louisiana and is currently embroiled in legal disputes over services provided to the states of South Dakota, Illinois and Michigan. Jindal’s former DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein was formerly employed by CNSI and it has been revealed that he was in constant contact with company officials in the days leading up to its selection for the $800 million contract. http://dailycaller.com/2013/11/22/subcontractor-working-on-obamacare-site-under-fbi-investigation/
  • While Mississippi was chosen as assembly sites for Airbus Aircraft and Nissan and Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai have built assembly plants in Alabama, the five facilities employing thousands (compared to 70 for Industrial Valve Production Co. Cortec), GM closed its Shreveport truck assembly plant.
  • For anyone who has ever wondered what the job of the Louisiana Attorney General is, consider this: the Evangeline Parish Police Jury, obviously with little to do about road maintenance in Evangeline, has asked the AG’s office for a legal opinion as to whether or not a rooster is a chicken (brings to mind the story about the child asking his mother if chickens are born. “No, chickens are hatched from an egg,” his mother said. “Was I hatched from an egg?” “No, you were born.” “Are eggs born?” “No, eggs are laid.” “Are people laid?” “Some are; others are chicken.”). State law, it seems, prohibits staging fights between “any bird which is of the species Gallus gallus. Proponents of cockfighting maintain their birds are of a species other than Gallus gallus and the AG has been asked to weigh in on the matter. (Sigh.).
  • That sink hole in Assumption Parish continues to expand with no indication from the fourth floor of the State Capitol that there is any concern on the part of the governor for the plight of all those displaced residents.
  • Our friend Don Whittinghill, who provided us the information on the auto assembly plants in Mississippi and Alabama, also provided another interest tidbit missing from Jindal’s web page: Last year, 91,215 people moved to Louisiana while 95,958 left for greener pastures—a net loss of 4,741 people. This could be related to Louisiana’s construction job growth of 8.3 percent compared to a 19.1 percent gain by Mississippi.
  • Louisiana is ranked as the seventh-worst governed state in the nation, according to the financial news site 24/7 Wall Street. The survey’s results are based on financial data, services provided by the state and residents’ standard of living. The state’s budget deficit of 25.1 percent was the fourth largest in the nation, ranking behind (in order) New Jersey (37.5 percent), Nevada (37 percent), and California (27.8 percent). The national average budget gap was 15.5 percent. The percentage of citizens living below the poverty line (19.9 percent) was third highest, surpassed only by Mississippi (24.2 percent) and New Mexico (20.8 percent), and the state’s median household income of $42,944 was eighth lowest in the nation. Moreover, nearly 500 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012 made Louisiana one of the most dangerous states in which to live.

So, Governor, we know you are a busy man, flitting all over the country to appear on CNN and Faux News, writing all those provocative op-eds in the Washington Post about how all the other Republicans (except you, of course) are a bunch of children whose hand you feel compelled to hold while leading them out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

We know you have all you can do in your efforts to climb from the bottom of the pile of potential GOP presidential contenders and that your sending Timmy Teepell to help get Neil Riser elected to Congress kind of blew up in your face—like that governor’s race in Virginia.

So, we want you to know, we’ve got your back.

We promise to keep a dutiful watch on your web blog and when we discover an omission in your superb coverage of all that’s good and wonderful in this state, we’ll be sure and jump in and fill the gap.

That’s the least we can do.

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We’ve come across a few odds and ends lying around that we feel might warrant a second look.

Another take on blood tests and one-vehicle accidents

First we would like to acknowledge that we initially wrote a piece based on erroneous information from certain people whose judgment we trusted but who were wrong. Because of their advice, we also were wrong in saying that blood alcohol tests are “routine procedure” in one vehicle accidents. It turns out that is not the case and we respectfully defer to the state trooper who investigated Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s accident last week. The trooper said in his report that Caldwell did not appear to be impaired and accordingly, he did not take a blood sample for testing. We have been informed by State Police and others that it is not “routine procedure” to take blood tests in single-vehicle accidents.

ATC moves in with State Police, not so the ATC director

The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has been moved from its former headquarters at United Plaza on Essen Lane in Baton Rouge to the Louisiana State Police compound on Independence Boulevard, ostensibly to save money.

ATC Director Troy Hebert and his administrative assistant Jessica Starns, however, were allowed to remain at the United Plaza offices and to even rent additional space for Hebert’s office.

What’s with that? Shouldn’t an agency director be physically located at the same address as his employees and not several miles across town? That would be like having a governor who spends all his time in other states. Oh, wait. We already have that, don’t we?

Baton Rouge publisher opposes freedom of expression

Normally, a member of the Fourth Estate would be up in arms at any suggestion at muzzling a critic of government, a suggestion any publisher, editor of reporter would quickly point to as a threat to the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

Such is not the case of one Baton Rouge publisher, we’re told. Reports have it that this publisher, a staunch supporter of Gov. Bobby Jindal, has gone on rampages in his office, ranting to his subordinates and anyone else who will listen that he wants Robert Mann stripped of his tenure at LSU—and fired.

Mann, who has worked with three U.S. senators (Russell Long, Bennett Johnston and John Breaux) and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, currently holds the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU.

A journalist and political historian, Mann also just happens to author a controversial political blog called Something Like the Truth http://bobmannblog.com/ in which he generally takes the Jindal administration to task for its roughshod trampling of all who dare disagree with him, be they state civil service employees, doctors, college presidents or legislators.

Mann is careful to feature a prominent disclaimer which says, “Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, not LSU, the Manship School nor the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.”

But that apparently is not enough for this publisher, who dutifully prints every inane press release by the governor that purports to make the state look good despite reams of negative national surveys on poverty, obesity and health care.

So much for a fair and independent press serving as a watchdog on behalf of the citizenry. We’re just sayin’…

Cerise Memo: LSU Board quorum?

Remember our story last week about that July 2012 meeting in the LSU President’s conference room where former Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine pitched the privatization plan for LSU’s 10-hospital system?

There was a key sentence then-head of the LSU Health Care System Dr. Fred Cerise included in his memorialization of that meeting regarding Levine’s presentation:

“The LSU board members present indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” the Cerise Memo said.

But wait. The LSU Board of Supervisors consists of 15 voting members, all appointed by the governor, and one student member who has no vote.

The Louisiana Open Meetings Law, R.S. 42: 4.2, headed “Public policy for open meetings; liberal construction,” reads thusly:

  • “Meeting” means the convening of a quorum of a public body to deliberate or act on a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. It shall also mean the convening of a quorum of a public body by the public body or by another public official to receive information regarding a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.
  • “Public body” means village, town, and city governing authorities; parish governing authorities; school boards and boards of levee and port commissioners; boards of publicly operated utilities; planning, zoning, and airport commissions; and any other state, parish, municipal, or special district boards, commissions, or authorities, and those of any political subdivision thereof, where such body possesses policy making, advisory, or administrative functions, including any committee or subcommittee of any of these bodies enumerated in this paragraph.
  • “Quorum” means a simple majority of the total membership of a public body.

The statute further stipulates that “every meeting of any public body shall be open to the public unless closed pursuant to R.S. 42.6, R.S. 42:6.1 or R.S. 42:6.2.”

First of all, R.S. 42:6 clearly states that a public body “may hold executive session upon an affirmative vote …of two-thirds of its constituent members present.”

R.S. 42:6.1 simply lists the reasons an executive session may be held which you may explore in greater detail here: http://www.lawserver.com/law/state/louisiana/la-laws/louisiana_revised_statutes_42-6-1

R.S. 42:6.2, re-designated as R.S. 42:18 in 2010, applies only to the Legislature. http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=99494

But let’s return to R.S. 42:4.2, that pesky little law about quorums.

Remember, the Cerise Memo said that the “LSU board members present” indicated their desire for the LSU administration to move forward with the Levine proposal.

Remember also, the LSU Board of Supervisors is comprised of 15 voting members.

But there were only four members of the LSU board present at that meeting, according to Cerise’s notes. They included Rolfe McCollister, Bobby Yarborough, Dr. John George and Scott Ballard.

Hardly a quorum.

But then, it was the likely intent of those present to avoid having a quorum because a quorum (eight voting members, in this case) would necessitate public notices of such a meeting and making said meeting open to the public.

Obviously, that was not the wish of the board members who did attend. They wanted, above all else, to avoid a full quorum so that the meeting could be conducted in secret.

If you check out our masthead, we recently added an anonymous quote:

  • It is understandable when a child is afraid of the dark but unforgivable when a man fears the light.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (Nov. 13, 1856-Oct. 5, 1941) is credited with coining the phrase, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But in avoiding the necessity of opening up that July 17, 2012, meeting to the public by purposely skirting the requirement of a quorum so as not to qualify as an official meeting, those four board members were legally barred from taking any official action.

Yet, that minor point of law did little to deter them from directing the LSU administration to pursue Levine’s plan.

Yes, we are fully aware that the four board members not only spoke for the entire board but for Gov. Bobby Jindal as well. As Elliott Stonecipher recently noted in his blog Forward Now, state ethic laws prohibited Levine from conducting business with the State for two years after his departure as DHH Secretary. http://forward-now.com/?p=8403

Levine’s last day at DHH was July 16, 2010. The meeting at which he presented his plan to LSU administrators and board members was on July 17, 2012.

And we don’t believe in coincidences. And anyone who doesn’t believe Levine was in constant contact with the administration in the days, weeks and months leading up to that July 17 meeting is…well, a fool.

Such is the Gold Standard of Ethics that Jindal has bestowed upon the people of Louisiana.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal has inserted income from the privatization of public agencies that weren’t yet privatized in order to make the numbers in his Executive Budget more palatable to legislators.

He has included revenue from the sale of state buildings that were not yet sold—indeed, some of which came back with appraisals far below his projected sale price—in order to make that budget more realistic.

To be sure, he caught considerable flak from those fiscal hawks in the legislature for his repeated use of one-time money for recurring expenses—something by the way, he was openly critical of and which he vowed never to do during his 2007 gubernatorial campaign.

Now LouisianaVoice has learned that Jindal has apparently attempted to execute an end run around state contract attorneys and the attorney general’s office in an attempt to negotiate a settlement of an outstanding judgment in favor of the state against a major pharmaceutical company.

It should be noted here that any negotiations between parties in any litigation without involving attorneys would be considered a breach in legal ethics.

The object of Jindal’s efforts is to generate a quick up front settlement of $50 million in order that he might plug holes in the upcoming annual ritual of mid-year adjustments to the state budget, one observer said.

Fifty million? Pretty good windfall for the state, wouldn’t you say?

Not necessarily—not when you consider that the amount of the original judgment was $257 million.

That’s correct. Two hundred fifty million dollars. Plus $3 million in costs, plus another $70 million in attorney fees.

Attorney fees? Didn’t we say the attorney general’s office was involved in the litigation?

Well, yes, then-Attorney General Charles Foti initiated the lawsuit way back in 2004 in 27th Judicial District Court in St. Landry Parish but heavy hitters were needed in this matter so several outside firms were contracted to steer the litigation through the courts. Those included the firms of Kenneth DeJean of Lafayette, Robert Salim of Natchitoches and Bailey, Perrin & Bailey and Fibich, Hampton, both of Houston.

On the other side of the ball were lawyers from the firms of Irwin, Fritchie, Urquhart & Moore of New Orleans, Guglielmo, Lopez & Tuttle of Opelousas, Drinker, Biddle & Reath of Florham Park, N.J., and O’Melveny & Myers of Washington, D.C.

After six years of legal back and forth sparring, discovery, depositions and various other means of keeping attorneys’ meters running the matter finally went to trial Sept 28-30 and Oct. 12 and 14, 2010. When the dust had settled, the jury made a determination that the “aggressive marketing campaigns” of Janssen Pharmaceutical, a Johnson & Johnson company, had violated the Louisiana Medical Assistance Programs Integrity Law (MAPIL) no fewer than a whopping 35,542 times with each violation subject to a civil penalty of $7,250, bringing the total damages to $257,679,500.

(Don’t ask us what “aggressive marketing campaigns” were employed by Janssen or how they violated the state’s MAPIL; we’re not privy to that information. All we know is what we read in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s affirmation.)

Janssen, of course, appealed the award as anyone might expect, but the Third Circuit upheld the lower court judgment and Janssen has applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court where the matter is now pending.

Nine years of judicial interest (6 percent per year in simple interest) brings the current total judgment to just a shade under $400 million.

So now we have Jindal who, in typical fashion, is attempting to patch anticipated budget holes with $50 million in one-time money—all the while throwing the state under the bus to the tune of nearly $350 million.

Several legal experts knowledgeable about the case say the State Supreme Court could conceivably reduce the attorney fees but that there is little chance that the $257 million award ($400 million with interest, remember) will be overturned—a fact that would make Jindal’s tactics even more underhanded.

And were it not for Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell, Jindal’s efforts may have succeeded, according to sources who told LouisianaVoice that Caldwell stepped in and shut down the negotiations.

Neither Caldwell nor this top assistant, Trey Phillips, returned telephone calls seeking comments on the matter.

Attempts were likewise made to contact several of the plaintiff attorneys who argued the case on the state’s behalf but all such attempts failed.

Any such settlement would necessarily negatively impact attorneys’ fees. Accordingly, it would be reasonable to expect a maelstrom of protests from the attorneys under contract to the state if they were aware of Jindal’s efforts.

LouisianaVoice also emailed Gov. Jindal’s office for a comment but received no response.

One person who did comment was Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove in Bossier Parish.

“I was not aware of this,” he said, “but I certainly am not surprised. This is typical of this governor. He has complete and total contempt for the people of this state. It’s all about what he can do for little Bobby. He’s trying to settle this for about 13 cents on the dollar just so he can patch his budget deficit, the state be damned.”

Neither Johnson & Johnson nor Janssen has made any campaign contributions to Jindal since 2003 but six pharmaceutical companies contributed $34,500 to his campaigns in 2007 and 2008. One of those, Pfizer, Inc., of New York City, gave $15,000 in three separate contributions of $5,000 each while Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in Washington, D.C., made two contributions of $5,000 each in 2007 and 2008.

State campaign finance records also show that pharmaceutical companies contributed more than $400,000 to candidates for state offices, mostly legislators, since 2003. Those contributions were for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Again, it was Pfizer ($170,000) and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers ($150,000) that reported the bulk of those contributions.

Other contributors included Takeda Pharmaceuticals of Deerfield, IL, and Novartis Pharmaceuticals of East Hanover, N.J.

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