Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s new role as a paid board member of his main political ally’s oil services company raises questions about whether Landry is following a state law that directs the prosecutor general from devoting “his full time” to the attorney general’s office and forbids him to do any outside legal work.
Landry first reported the composition of the board on its 2020 financial disclosure, filed this month with the Louisiana Ethics Committee. The Attorney General reported making between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000 last year as an “independent board member” of Harvey Gulf LLC, which is chaired by the chairman of the board and CEO, Shane Guidry.
The arrangement is unusual in many ways: Guidry is a major donor to Landry, who also hired Guidry as a “special agent / investigator” for the attorney general’s office. No other current elected official in the state has reported having served on the board of directors of a private company.
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Biography of Landry on the Harvey Gulf website says he helps the company “comply with all applicable laws and regulations,” while Guidry explained in a recent interview that Landry advises Harvey Gulf to make sure the company is not breaking the law on corrupt practices abroad.
“I had a vacancy to sit in this seat and I couldn’t think of a better person than my good friend Jeff Landry who is very knowledgeable about these laws,” Guidry said.
But in Louisiana, the attorney general is bound by a state law that says he cannot practice law outside of his office, and must devote all of his time to being an attorney general.
“The Attorney General should not exercise the private practice of law during his tenure, but devotes himself full time to the functions of the office of the Attorney General,” the state statute reads, in its entirety.
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The attorney general is also subject to state ethics laws which state that officials must be judicious in receiving payments and gifts other than their state salaries. Landry’s paid position on Harvey Gulf’s board of directors could violate these rules, according to several experts.
Guidry said Landry devotes a few hours a month to his work for the board of directors of Harvey Gulf, one of several sources of external income according to the attorney general. Landry also claims full ownership of two recruiting firms. He did not answer detailed questions about the time he devotes to running these businesses.
It is difficult to determine from a review of public records how much time Landry spends in official functions compared to outside companies. His public calendars are often empty, with the exception of media appearances, often on right-wing channels including One America News Network and Newsmax.
For example, its calendars over a three-month period at the end of last year showed 27 media appearances, compared to 23 meetings or conference calls with members of its staff. The majority were weekly conference calls with his communications team. A swipe card request from Landry of the whereabouts of his office revealed only five tapes, although his spokesperson said his staff normally waved him into the office.
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Landry’s email log also gives little information about his work as an AG. For example, when the newspaper asked for all messages between Landry and five of his key contributors for a week in July, the office produced just five emails, all general messages broadcast or received by a large audience. Officials said they were withholding 22 other messages because they were either “work product” or “confidential intra-agency correspondence.” A request for a second week of emails produced similar results. The office rejected a request for a year of messages because it was too cumbersome.
Landry did not respond to detailed questions sent to his spokesperson for this story. Guidry did not return calls for this story.
Former Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who lost a murderous re-election campaign to Landry in 2015, says Landry’s membership on Harvey Gulf’s board seems inappropriate. Caldwell said attorneys general should not practice law beyond their office, especially if they sell their title of “attorney general” to tout their credibility as a lawyer.
“I never would have done that; it’s a pretty clear conflict of interest, ”Caldwell said.
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When Landry took office in 2016, he followed through on a wish to clean up “the semblance of corruption” in his office by getting rid of contracts Caldwell had awarded to private attorneys, many of whom were campaign donors. Landry then said that even though the contracts did not violate the state’s code of ethics, he wanted to go further because “we believe it is inappropriate and creates a bad perception.”
But if the appearance of impropriety matters to Landry, he should cancel his membership on the Harvey Gulf board and return all the money he got from it, said Rafael Goyeneche, chairman of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. , a not-for-profit criminal justice watchdog.
“At the very least, you are considering a potential ethics violation,” Goyeneche said. “At the very least, I think Landry, out of prudence – to avoid even the appearance of impropriety – should repay any income or compensation he received from Harvey Gulf and apologize. He must also inform the Ethics Administration. If he doesn’t have an opinion, he has to get it now.
Caldwell agreed that Landry should have sought an ethics review before serving on Harvey Gulf’s board of directors, and that the composition of its board should be “closely watched.”
Landry did not answer the question of whether he had sought advice from the ethics committee on the composition of the board. But the board usually publishes advisory opinions that people have sought on a variety of topics, and none have been issued to Landry on that. Guidry told the newspaper that Landry called an ethics lawyer in 2019 before taking the job, but he couldn’t remember who it was.
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As Landry continues to earn income from his work outside of the office, he also ended this practice for lawyers working under him, in 2016. Caldwell allowed it, as long as the work did not show any conflict.
Landry said then that his employees would only be able to do outside legal work in the future if they completed a case they had already taken on. But it was purely a change in policy, rather than the statute of the state which prohibits work outside the GA itself.
“This statute says that you cannot practice law and that you have to devote your full-time functions to being the attorney general,” Goyeneche said. “And according to Shane Guidry, he practices law and gives him legal advice. And even if Shane misinterprets this, to sit on this board he has to work a few hours a month. This means that he is not devoting his full-time efforts to being an attorney general.
Landry earns $ 110,000 as an attorney general. That means his gig at Harvey Gulf could pay almost as much as his job as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
Landry also reported revenues of over $ 200,000 each of its staffing companies, UST Environmental Services and Evergreen Contractors. But while Landry’s disclosure made it clear that he was working for the money he receives from the attorney general’s office and Harvey Gulf, he described his other income as “dividends.”
The law can be vague about what constitutes “the practice of law”. But a 2018 opinion from the Landry office The president of the parish of Lafourche informed him that the statute of the state states that the practice of law includes “the advice or counsel of another person on secular law” if it is done “for a consideration, a monetary reward or benefit ”, directly or indirectly, in the present or in the future.
Elizabeth Carter, a professor at LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center, which advises lawyers on ethical issues, said it was pretty clear. “Louisiana law prohibits the attorney general from engaging in the private practice of law and requires him to devote all of his time to serving the state as attorney general,” she said.
Carter, who stressed that she was not speaking on behalf of LSU, added: “Mr. Landry’s financial disclosure and your previous reports indicate that he is paid over $ 50,000 per year to provide advice relating to the Corrupt Practices Abroad Act, ”she added. “While Mr. Guidry’s statements in your previous report accurately describe Mr. Landry’s role, it certainly appears that Mr. Landry’s position as a member of the board of directors violates the spirit of the Louisiana Revised Statute 49 : 256.
Landry has sought to reassure the public that his work at Harvey Gulf is kosher. His bio on the company’s website states that he “serves on the Harvey Gulf Board in a purely personal capacity and outside of his work and efforts on behalf of the State of Louisiana. In accordance with the highest ethical and moral standards, the service of Landry’s board of directors is separate from his official functions.
Caldwell disputes that such independence is possible.
“It’s ridiculous for anyone to sit on a board as an attorney general like that – it’s very, very problematic and probably unethical to have that happen,” Caldwell said. “There is too much distorted influence to sit on a board like this in a representative capacity.”