Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office is defending itself against criticism that it has been slow to respond to requests for opinions submitted by Lafayette Consolidated Government’s legal department concerning questions about the Lafayette Charter Commission.

Communications Director Sharon Kleinpeter contacted The Ind last week to question a headline we used on our website, “Caldwell sticking it to Lafayette.” The article expressed frustration with the apparent slow pace with which the AG is fielding questions from LCG, which requested opinions from Caldwell as long ago as February of 2010. LCG chief counsel Mike Hebert, who took over the post from longtime LCG attorney Pat Ottinger earlier this year, told The Daily Advertiser last week that his department has been unable “to get an answer of any kind” since Ottinger began requesting opinions more than a year ago. Some members of the commission have also privately expressed frustration with Caldwell’s office.

Most recently — in late February — Hebert requested an opinion about whether the charter commission can place a multiple-choice ballot before voters. In that request Hebert also directed Caldwell’s office to disregard previous requests for opinions.

In an email exchange this week with Kleinpeter, the communications director defended the AG’s office:

Attorney General Caldwell would like to set the record straight on the issue of a timely opinion on what the Lafayette Charter Commission can recommend in a parish wide referendum on consolidated government.  Your headline could be misleading unless you understand the facts.

The current opinion request has been pending since March 2, 2011, a mere three weeks, not thirteen months. We have met with City-Parish officials in 2010 and 2011 to provide feedback on the City-Parish’s original proposal. After thorough research into the various issues presented by the City-Parish, we advised Lafayette representatives that they could not proceed to deconsolidate their present government in the manner proposed in their original request. As a result, the Lafayette attorneys withdrew their original requests and presented a revised request for opinion written on February 28, 2011 and received in our office on March 2, 2011. In fact the February 28, 2011 opinion request thanked the Attorney General’s office for assistance in reviewing the issues presented in previous requests.

As Attorney General Caldwell stated, “Issuing opinions is a responsibility we take very seriously. We will not provide legal opinions that do not meet legal parameters just to satisfy a requester’s wishes. However we do issue studied and accurate opinions based on the law.”

Deconsolidation has never been attempted in Louisiana and it is not a simple isolated process. Arriving at such a conclusion takes extensive legal research and consideration of the many entities involved in this scenario. As research was being conducted by our office, various ideas began emerging from the council and charter commission, and additional opinions were requested. Our office communicated with parish officials in 2010 and 2011 which resulted in the March 2, 2011 opinion request being submitted and withdrawing all previous requests.

Our office understands this unique situation and intends to provide the most accurate legal reasoning in its opinion, bearing in mind that this endeavor must also receive approval from the State Bond Commission and be precleared by the United States Department of Justice.
On Monday the City-Parish Council will vote on an introductory ordinance giving the commission an additional nine months to conduct its business and make a recommendation. If the intro ordinance fails the commission will have just two weeks to settle on what it puts before voters.

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