Thursday, December 20, 2007

What honeymoon?

Opinion from The Advocate:

Jindal lawyer ties troubling

Published: Dec 20, 2007 - Page: 6B

When Bobby Jindal was running for governor, he promised an ethical administration far above the standards of the past. But Jindal’s pick for executive counsel, an enormously influential position as the Governor’s Office attorney, hopes to retain some interest, of some sort, in his law firm in Pineville while serving the state full-time in Baton Rouge.

Unfortunately, among the main clients of Jimmy Faircloth’s Pineville firm is the Coushatta tribe and its giant casino complex in Kinder.

This puts gambling interests in a key position in the Governor’s Office.

What the incoming administration is going to do about this is not clear, but the initial responses to criticism of Faircloth’s appointment are not encouraging.

Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said that Faircloth is arranging a buy-out of his interest in the firm, but Faircloth said in an interview that he would retain some tie to it.

Faircloth said he would recommend that Jindal appoint a special counsel to handle Indian gambling questions facing the new administration.

We don’t think that’s enough.

For one thing, the governor must sign off on compacts between the state and the Indian tribes. While a special counsel could handle those cases, Faircloth would be in a position to influence decisions behind the scenes.

Further, the Indian tribes often are embroiled in conflicts with other gambling companies over legislation about the scope of competitive gambling operations. As executive counsel, Faircloth would be in a position to help the tribes in a huge way, albeit indirectly.

In the past, executive counsels have included people with direct and continuing financial interests in firms representing clients before state agencies. That’s not appropriate today.

Faircloth’s situation is different, but his once and future financial interest as a lawyer for gambling interests is a potential conflict.It is a distraction in one of the most demanding jobs in state government.

However well Faircloth conducts himself, his desire to return to the firm after his service in the Governor’s Office will raise questions whenever any decision is made by Jindal involving gambling.

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