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Feud Still Simmers

Sue Lincoln

Governor John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry have been battling since both took office, and the latest basis for their bickering remains unresolved.

“It’s very clear to me that the money sitting in the escrow account was due to the state of Louisiana; should have been transferred into the General Fund a few years ago, in fact,” Edwards says of $4-million that is the most recent focus of their feud.

The Attorney General sees it differently, referring to this squabble as, “the governor’s decision to basically raid our funding.”

In his solution for the most recent budget shortfall, the governor requested the money, held in escrow by the A.G.’s office since the settlement of a pharmaceutical lawsuit in 2013, be transferred to the State General Fund help with filling the state budget hole.

“The Legislature, as I see it, didn’t weigh into the dispute over where that money should go because it just left it where it is – in an escrow account,” Edwards remarked, following the adjournment of the special session.

Landry, however defends his office holding onto that money.

“That is an escrow account that this office has consistently used to offset the cost of litigation in going after industries or companies that are basically defrauding the state, or defense of constitutional issues -- the statutes that the legislature passes.”

But the governor insists the funds from a lawsuit Landry’s predecessor instigated and won belong to the state as a whole – not to the Attorney General.

“The money is in an escrow account that I don’t believe is his to access at will,” Edwards maintains. “The escrow account is not his budget.”

And, the governor says, the issue is far from settled.

“I don’t intend to initiate legal action. He may do that. I don’t know,” Edwards says. “What you’re likely to see are more discussions between the Attorney General’s office and my office about how we move forward with respect to that money.”