In a letter to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority -- East (SLFPA-E), Congressman Steve Scalise today demanded transparency and answers regarding the contract between the SLFPA-E and the trial lawyers who filed a lawsuit against 97 energy producers in Louisiana for loss of coastal wetlands dating back to the beginning of the last century.
"As a public body, the SLFPA-E has a responsibility to be open and transparent," Scalise said. "According to the contract, the trial lawyers' meter is now running and our flood protection assets will be in jeopardy if the lawsuit is dropped. Louisiana has fought too hard for levee board reform to have our flood protection assets placed in jeopardy by the whims of some unelected body. If the necessary funds aren't available to cover the legal expenses incurred, the levee board could be forced to sell flood protection assets in order to pay the bills. Our flood protection assets should not be used as poker chips at the casino.
"The people of Southeast Louisiana deserve full and complete transparency when it comes to the contract signed by the SLFPA-E and the trial lawyers. I look forward to the levee board's prompt reply to this letter and a detailed explanation of the events leading up to, and in the wake of, the lawsuit being filed."
Scalise specifically asked the SLFPA-E for answers to the following questions:
1. If the SLFPA-E decides it is in our best interest to drop the lawsuit, would the taxpayer (via the SLFPA-E) be responsible for paying the legal fees already incurred by these firms? If so, does the SLFPA-E have the funds that would be required to cover the legal expenses incurred up to that point? If not, would flood control assets be put at risk to pay these expenses?
2. On average, what is the billable hourly rate for the firms handling this case? If billable hours vary from each firm and/or attorney, please provide a detailed list of those rates and the attorneys to whom they apply.
3. What is the total expenditure from these law firms to date, and what is the average weekly amount of money being billed?
4. How did the SLFPA-E select the law firm of Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison? Was there a publicly-held vote of the SLFPA-E members regarding this decision? If so, please provide the date and breakdown of the vote. If not, please give details of the process undertaken to select this firm. Were other firms offered the opportunity to represent SLFPA-E regarding this case?
5. What was the selection process for contracting additional law firms or attorneys to work on this case?
6. Who has the legal authority to sign contracts on behalf of the Board?