Conflicts Galore

November 19, 2013

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) meets this Thursday morning to consider scuttling — or doubling down on — its environmental lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. One of Gov. Bobby Jindal's new appointees, lawyer Joe Hassinger, has said he plans to introduce a motion to suspend the suit. It didn't take him long to pass his "litmus test" for Jindal and "coastal czar" Garret Graves.

But Hassinger may have a conflict of interest that will prevent him from even participating in the debate, let alone making or voting on the motion to suspend the lawsuit. That's because he works at a law firm — Galloway Johnson — that boasts of its big-shot clients in the energy industry. Hassinger is a "director" (read: partner) in the Galloway firm, which means that any conflicts that the firm may have are legally imputed to him. The firm's web site lists Hassinger's areas of practice; they include "environment."

Hassinger's potential conflict doesn't end there. His brother, Tim Hassinger, also is a firm director at Galloway — and Tim practices in the area of energy law.

Under state law, an "appointed member of a board or commission who recuses himself from voting pursuant to [state ethics laws] shall be prohibited from participating in discussion and debate concerning the matterSee La.R.S. 42:1120.4(B). A related section of state law (R.S.42:1112) provides that conflicts of interest extend to matters that involve immediate family members and entities in which the appointed official is "an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee."

WWL-TV's Paul Murphy had the jump on this story today at 5PM. You can see it HERE.

Team Jindal claims that Galloway does not represent any of the 97 energy companies named as defendants in the SLFPA-E lawsuit, which begs the question on several counts:

  • Even if Galloway does not represent any of those companies at present, did it ever represent any of them?
  • If, as claimed on its web site, Galloway is a major player in the legal representation of energy companies, it's hard to imagine that the firm did not ever rep any of the major players named in the suit — or that the firm won't one day seek to represent such companies.
  • What about other energy companies that may have partnered with any of the defendants named in the suit. It's common practice in the Oil Patch for companies that might otherwise compete with one another to joint venture or partner up. There's that much money to be made.

In short, the quick-and-dirty "inquiry" that Team Jindal did on deadline for Murphy's story was just that. Ditto for the vetting process that the "independent nominating committee" chaired by oiled-up local businessman Jay Lapeyre, who was so eager to dump John Barry from the board that his committee obviously didn't "vet" Hassinger very deeply. Then again, Lapayre's own conflict of interest in this affair is now a matter of public record, so what's one more?

Speaking of one more conflict of interest, there's SLFPA-E board chair Tim Doody, who is the manager of the Chaffe McCall law firm downtown. Doody recused himself from the last public vote on the lawsuit, saying he was getting pressure from his employer, which likewise has a significant practice in the energy sector. If Doody had a conflict of interest the last time a vote was taken, will that conflict suddenly evaporate during Thursday's meeting? If so, it will be REALLY interesting to see him twist and contort the law — he's an accountant, not a lawyer — in defense of such a flip-flop.

Here's a clue: Jindal has formally appointed Hassinger to the SLFPA-E, but not so Doody. Technically, Doody has been re-nominated but not reappointed. That's probably Jindal's way of stringing Doody along to make sure he toes the Team Jindal line. Will Doody have the integrity to recuse himself again? Or will he embrace the Bobby Jindal "Gold Standard" of ethics? If you're wondering just what that Gold Standard is, think of it this way: If there's gold to be made, there are no standards … and no conflicts of interest.

If Jindal, Hassinger & Co. succeed in scuttling the lawsuit, it will be the biggest sellout since Huey Long gave his pals the mineral rights to Louisiana's water bottoms. Let's hope the public turns out in force to let the SLFPA-E know that people are behind the effort to make Big Oil pay for what it broke.

The SLFPA-E meeting is at 9:30AM this Thursday at the Orleans Levee District offices, 6920 Franklin Ave.