When Chris Broadwater the state legislator says he has never received compensation from a private source for the performance of his legislative duties, he is technically correct.
Broadwater the attorney, however, does represent insurance companies before a state agency he once ran and over which he still exercises control as Vice Chairman of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.
Taking that gray area of state ethics and moving into even murkier waters is the fact that Broadwater regularly consults with Wes Hataway, the current director of the Louisiana Office of Worker’s Compensation, the appointive position he himself once held before his election to the House of Representatives in 2011, on matters pending before the current director, Wes Hataway.
Broadwater (R-Hammond) resigned as Director of the Office of Workers’ Comp (OWC) in February 2011 to join a private law firm preparatory to running for state representative that same year and was succeeded by Hataway.
An ally of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Broadwater was immediately assigned to the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee where he was promptly named vice chairman.
Documents filed with the State Board of Ethics in December 2012 and April of this year indicate that Broadwater represents three companies, Qmedtrix at $275 an hour, the Louisiana Home Builders Association, and LUBA Worker’s Comp, both at $135 an hour, in defending worker’s compensation claims before the OWC.
Moreover, an application for supervisory writs filed with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles in March of this year in the case of Christus Health Southwest Louisiana, dba Christus St. Patrick Hospital, v. Great American Insurance Co. of New York, revealed meetings between Broadwater, Qmedtrix and Hataway to discuss the disposition of numerous cases involving Qmedtrix, namely efforts to get the cases stayed and transferred to another judge.
That writ application concerns procedures and conversations that took place involving numerous pending workers’ compensation cases about which we will be writing in subsequent postings.
For the purposes of this post, however, we will be limiting the discussion to the activities of Broadwater as they pertain to his relationship with the current Director of OWC (the position he once held) and his serving as vice chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the functions of OWC.
Broadwater, when confronted with the reports of the meetings, admitted to meeting with Hataway in late November 2012 at which time the transfers were discussed, the court filing says.
“In what may be the pinnacle of irony, Mr. Broadwater actually disclosed this ex parte meeting on his state ethics disclosure form,” the writ application says.
It (the writ application) quoted Broadwater’s own comment from that disclosure form: “Met with Director of OWC discussing process of resolving disputes over medical billing.”
The document said Broadwater admitted to meeting with Hataway “three or four times in person” (always with a Qmedtrix attorney present) and speaking with him 10 or 15 times on the phone. “This ex parte contact (Latin legal term meaning for the benefit of one party) with the OWC director at the request of Qmedtrix” cost Qmedtrix $275 per hour for Mr. Broadwater’s services, it said. “This rate must have seemed reasonable to Qmedtrix especially once they learned Chris Broadwater was not only a longtime friend (20 years) of Director Hataway, but was actually Director Hataway’s boss when Chris Broadwater was OWC Director,” the writ application added.
Not only did Broadwater admit discussing with Hataway the pending appointment of his former law partner to succeed Judge Shelly Dick once Judge Dick was confirmed as U.S. District Court Judge, but he related in detail how Hataway sought his advice on whether or not Hataway had the power as director to issue a stay of pending cases without involving the judges to whom the cases were assigned. Broadwater was of the opinion that Hataway did have such authority.
At the time Broadwater was hired by Qmedtrix, he “was well aware that Qmedtrix was involved in numerous workers’ compensation claims pending in the various OWC districts challenging its payment recommendations to the hospitals and ambulatory surgery center,” the writ application says.
“There is absolutely no question that Chris Broadwater was well aware that his client Qmedtrix was heavily involved in the ‘usual and customary’ litigation in front of the OWC at the time these ex parte discussions took place,” the court document said.
Broadwater even admitted as much when he was asked in deposition if he understood when he spoke with Hataway that Qmedtrix “was heavily involved in litigation in Louisiana workers’ compensation courts at the time.”
“Sure,” responded Broadwater to that question.
In addition to Qmedtrix, Broadwater also represented LUBA, the writ application says, “and, in fact, helped (former law partner) Amanda Clark secure LUBA as her client as well.
Broadwater, in a two-page letter to LouisianaVoice, said he approaches his duties as an attorney and as a legislator “with humbleness and with the highest sense of honor and ethical behavior. I believe that all elected officials should…act with the interests of our citizens in mind,” he said.
He said his representation of clients is governed by state statute which “prohibits me from receiving compensation from a source other than the legislature for performing my public duties, from receiving finder’s fees, from being paid by a private source for services related to the legislature or which draws substantially upon official data not a part of the public domain.”
He said he has provided legal counsel to clients before agencies, other than the legislature “and have disclosed such representation as required by law. At no time have I been offered, nor have I ever accepted payment from a private source for the performance of my legislative duties,” he said.
“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.
“If one assumed your interpretation to be correct—that service on a committee to which matters of the law related to one’s private employment are considered—it would likewise be improper for attorneys to serve on the Civil Law Committee, attorneys to serve on the Judiciary Committee, attorneys to serve on the Criminal Justice Committee, pharmacists to serve on the Health and Welfare Committee, business owners to serve on the Commerce Committee, farmers to serve on the Agriculture Committee, insurance agents to serve on the Insurance Committee, accountants to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, or attorneys to serve in the legislature in general as the legislature passes laws that inevitably will be later interpreted and applied in our private legal practice. I do not believe that such an outcome is required by the law, nor do I believe it would be wise policy to prohibit individuals to participate in government and share their area of expertise as policy is developed.
“I believe that my colleagues and I take our oath seriously and, should an issue arise that directly relates to an issue with which we are personally involved, we appropriately recuse ourselves from any such vote.”
While that was certainly better than a “no comment,” it still does not address the issue of his meeting with the OWC director to discuss pending cases that might affect his clients or to give advice to his successor on these cases.
Nor does it explain the likelihood that he would be hired to represent the three companies to fight for denials or reductions in workers’ comp medical payments were it not for his connections as both a legislator and as a former director of the Louisiana Office of Workers’ Compensation.
Just another sad example of how things are done in the administration that gave us the “gold standard” of governmental ethics.