BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s Republican attorney general sued the Democratic governor’s office Tuesday, accusing it of improperly withholding $4 million owed to the attorney general’s office for operations.
Attorney General Jeff Landry’s lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is the latest in a string of feuds between the two men since they both took office last year.
The lawsuit says Edwards’ Division of Administration has refused to transfer $4 million in an escrow account that belongs to the attorney general’s office, causing problems running the agency and blocking the money for “reasons that are clearly frivolous and legally unfounded.”
The dollars at issue in the lawsuit are from a 2014 pharmaceutical settlement, and the Edwards administration said they are not legally Landry’s dollars to spend.
Landry accuses Edwards of refusing to move the money for political reasons, and his lawsuit says the administration is “using the statewide accounting system as a political weapon.”
“John Bel Edwards is a predictable and vindictive Washington-style politician more concerned with political points than the people’s business,” Landry said in a statement. “By playing petty partisan politics, the governor is jeopardizing the operations of the Louisiana Department of Justice.”
Edwards said he learned of the filing through Landry’s statement. He called it “nothing more than another dog and pony show.”
“The law clearly states that this money does not belong to the Department of Justice, and I am more than willing to defend that in court,” the governor said in a statement.
The Edwards administration says under state law, the attorney general is required to turn over the money in escrow to the state treasury. Landry’s predecessor, Buddy Caldwell, never remitted the money as required, according to the Edwards administration.
Landry disagrees. His office says the escrow account pays for ongoing operations of the office, using dollars that it generates from legal settlements it negotiates. The $4 million, the attorney general’s lawsuit says, “is necessary to ensure continuity of operations, to make payroll, to cover expenses of ongoing litigation and to avoid a deficit.”
Edwards tried to move the money to fill budget gaps in a special session earlier this year, but lawmakers decided against taking the dollars, leaving them in the escrow account. The Senate wanted to shift the dollars, but the House didn’t agree.
Since then, the Division of Administration has refused to transfer them.
Since lawmakers refused to spend the money on other budget areas, the Edwards administration has no “legitimate legal basis” to refuse to transfer the dollars to the attorney general’s office, the lawsuit says.
“Jeff Landry is going to great lengths at the taxpayer’s expense to protect an escrow account that doesn’t belong to his department while the rest of state government is taking a spending cut,” Edwards said.
Edwards and Landry have sparred repeatedly since they took office last year, in the Legislature and in court. Landry is considered a possible challenger to Edwards in the 2019 governor’s race.