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Politicized request, suit witch hunt against Landry

Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry may hope all that he wants to that he’s not subject to a political witch hunt, but he is.

Some months ago, he received a pair of public records requests right out of left field. One asked for all correspondence between Landry or any member of his office and “any representatives of companies (and/or trade associations representing such companies) involved in the exploration for and production of hydrocarbons.” The other sought a broad range of documents related to Landry's travel to conferences, speaking engagements and public appearances as the state's chief prosecutor, including records for travel, lodging and meals, as well as records “showing all contracts awarded to attorneys and/or law firms … to represent the state and any state entities in litigation,” and documents regarding vehicles bought by Landry's office. Added to it a couple of weeks later was contracts and correspondence for legal representation that have been reviewed by his office since his inauguration.

In other words, these wanted just about everything involving Republican Landry’s conduct as a public official, his office’s relations with parties to his subcontractors and anybody remotely connected to energy firms, and his office’s dealing with approval of contracts let by other government agencies. By the look of the scope involved, this fishing expedition related to Landry’s cooling the jets on the Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration attempts to sue energy companies, his review and ultimate disapproval of language that courts found Edwards had unconstitutionally included in contracts, and to any manner of conduct in office that might conflict with state ethics laws.

And these did not emanate from a Louisiana citizen. The person responsible is one Scarlett Andrews Martin from Indianapolis, ostensibly for “research” purposes. At present, she is described as a “community builder” for a nonprofit organization, but lived most of her life in the south and in New Orleans was affiliated with the leftist environmental organization Gulf Restoration Network, a group reflexively against reasonable energy exploration and extraction in the Gulf of Mexico. It cheered on failed lawsuits against companies engaged in that activity, legal actions with which Edwards has sympathized and still hopes to engineer his own version thereof.

Unfortunately, Landry’s office walked into controversy when it accepted Martin’s money to process the documents three months ago and has yet to produce the document stream. As it has received in the neighborhood of 200 public information requests since he took office in early 2016 – undoubtedly some like this one of the nuisance variety – it may have thought some sign of progress would indicate a fair attempt to provide through the blizzard of requests.

Instead, the delay provoked a suit from Martin filed by area lawyer Chris Whittington. As further evidence of the politicized action, Whittington has long served Democrat causes in the state, and led the state party a decade ago, only to be booted after a string of electoral defeats that launched its way to apparently permanent minority status. To add injury to insult, the suit asks also for damages and attorney fees.

Regrettably, this – both the request and subsequent suit – is nothing more than a partisan attempt to attack Landry, a popular and able conservative regarded as a serious challenger to Democrat Edwards in 2019. The kitchen sink strategy – ask generally for everything about a politician’s conduct in office and specifically concerning issue areas with which the petitioner disagrees with the target – tries both to irritate in attempting to overwhelm the resources of the office and to uncover something, anything, that can be spun to make the official and other supporters of the issue preference look sinister. It hopes it finds diamonds in the rough employable as weapons to mobilize public opinion against the official and his issue preference, if not find some malfeasance.

As unsavory as such motives may be, and particularly in this case when aligned with an agenda against the public good, it’s the price paid in an open society. Having promised to deliver, Landry needs to do so and reconcile himself to the fact that, among many honest and helpful petitions for information any official receives, as in this case he also will have to deal with malevolent, distractive ones.

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