Marionneaux sues ethics board to stop complaint against him

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

State Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr. filed suit Friday in an attempt to stop the Louisiana Board of Ethics from pursuing an ethics charge against him.

The board last month charged Marionneaux with failing to file a required notice within 10 days of his agreeing to represent Bernard Mechanical Engineers in a lawsuit against LSU, a state agency.

Marionneaux's law partner, Lewis O. Unglesby, filed the suit for the senator in 18th Judicial District Court here asking for an injunction against the board to stop the ethics case from going forward.

The case was allotted at random first to District Judge Robin Free, who recused himself, and then to District Judge James J. Best, who is expected to set a hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday, September 14, on Marionneaux's request for a temporary injunction against the ethics board.

“The board has either misinterpreted the statute as it related the agency of a legislator, or the board has unconstitutionally attempted to regulate the practice of law, which is strictly prohibited and specifically reserved to the Louisiana Supreme Court,” the senator's lawsuit said.

According to the petition, the state approved the “very specialized” energy efficiency contract between Bernard Mechanical and LSU in 2003; in early 2004, the company sued after LSU allegedly defaulted and refused to pay the company money owed under the terms of the contract.

Bernard Mechanical hired Marionneaux to represent the company in its lawsuit against LSU just after Marionneaux successfully defended the Iberville Parish School Board against a suit on a similar contract, the suit said. According to the petition, the School Board case, which went to the state Supreme Court, remains the only reported decision on energy efficiency contracts.

State law requires elected officials to disclose any payments they receive for assisting anyone in a transaction with the government unless they have first filed a sworn statement within 10 days of the initial assistance.

The lawsuit said the Board of Ethics had never interpreted state law to require legislator/lawyers to file 10-day reports until May 8, 2009, after Marionneaux took the job representing Bernhard.

Since Marionneaux' representation predated the board's “new and erroneous” interpretation of the law, the senator had not violated the statute, the petition said.

Although he objected to the board's interpretation, Marionneaux said in the suit he did inform the board in February that he was representing Coastal Bridge Company in a suit against the state Department of Transportation and Development. After that, the board asked for more information, including the amount fees the senator and Unglesby received.

“This type of information is in direct conflict with the attorney-client privilege, and business practices of Unglesby and Marionneaux with its clients, and is in conflict with the Code of Professional Conduct 1.6,” the lawsuit said.

Such a demand for information “would chill any prospective client's desire to hire the firm of a lawyer/legislator, as no other lawyer in the state would be required to disclose such information, thereby violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution,” the petition said.

Marionneaux and others would suffer immediate and irreparable loss if the board were not enjoined from “its misinterpretation of the statute or its unconstitutional regulation of the practice of law,” the suit said.