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Attorney general, critical of outside lawyer, holds up possible lawsuit against oil companies

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NEW ORLEANS — A letter from Louisiana's attorney general appears to throw up at least a temporary roadblock for a parish that is considering lawsuits against oil and gas companies over coastal damage.

Buddy Caldwell says in the Sept. 15 letter that he won't approve a Cameron Parish Police Jury resolution to hire outside attorneys for such a lawsuit until the resolution is amended to make clear that those attorneys will represent the parish alone — not the state.

Caldwell said he was concerned because court transcripts from a Plaquemines Parish lawsuit against oil companies indicate one of the outside lawyers incorrectly claimed to represent the state as well the parish.

Cameron Police Jury President Kirk Quinn referred questions to the attorneys. Attorneys with the law firm of Talbot, Carmouche and Marcello did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The resolution, a copy of which accompanied Caldwell's letter, was approved in February. It calls for the parish to hire two firms — Mudd & Bruchhaus and the Talbot firm.

The hiring of outside counsel requires approval from the Attorney General's Office. The office has approved similar contracts, notably for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. That New Orleans-based regional levee board filed a lawsuit against oil, gas and pipeline companies last year, saying drilling and dredging activity contributed to the degradation of coastal wetlands that form a protective hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, the oil industry and the industry's supporters have been harshly critical of that lawsuit, calling it a windfall for lawyers and an attack on a valuable industry. Jindal has been replacing authority members as their terms expire and may have enough votes on the panel to cancel the suit later this year.

However, Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes have sued over similar issues and those lawsuits would continue. Like the flood board's suit, those actions were moved from state to federal court on motions by the industry. The parishes are trying to get the cases moved back to state court.

Caldwell said in his letter that he became concerned when he read transcripts of federal court arguments over where the lawsuits should be tried.

"Specifically, during argument, the Judge asked whether you filed suit on behalf of Plaquemines Parish and on behalf of the State and whether you represented the State," Caldwell wrote to Marcello. "You answered in the affirmative on both issues."

Caldwell goes on to say he has not authorized the firms named in the resolution to represent the state.

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