BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s attorney general moved Thursday to drop his lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards over access to a multimillion-dollar escrow account, after lawmakers negotiated a compromise ending the budget dispute.
Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry filed paperwork in Baton Rouge-based district court to dismiss the lawsuit. Landry had sued the Democratic governor’s administration in April, accusing it of improperly withholding money owed to Landry’s office for operations.
An agreement brokered by Republican Sen. Bret Allain, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, settled the feud between the two statewide elected officials. Lawmakers approved the bills containing the compromise last month.
“During this year’s budget process, the Legislature and our office worked together to appropriate the funds that were in dispute and ensure that the Louisiana Department of Justice could continue to provide necessary services to the public and state government. Therefore, the lawsuit has become moot and it has been dismissed,” Landry said in a statement.
The compromise involved a complex transfer of funds that wiped out the $5.3 million sitting in the contested escrow account in exchange for giving the attorney general’s office $2.7 million in other state financing.
Edwards’ chief lawyer Matthew Block has described it as a “fair resolution.”
At the time the deal was struck, House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, a Republican allied with Landry, said the deal was crafted “so hopefully they will stop suing each other.”
The lawsuit over the escrow account is the latest dustup between Edwards and Landry since the men took office last year. Both are in their first terms in the positions. Landry is considered a possible challenger to Edwards in the 2019 governor’s race and has raised the profile of the attorney general’s office since entering the job.
Landry also has sued Edwards over the governor’s executive order banning discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The attorney general argued Edwards’ order unconstitutionally sought to create state law since legislators have refused to approve such LGBT-rights protections. A state district judge agreed with Landry. Edwards is appealing the ruling.
In the escrow account lawsuit, Landry said Edwards’ Division of Administration refused to transfer money in the escrow account that belonged to the attorney general’s office, causing problems running the agency. Landry accused the governor of refusing to move the money for political reasons.
The dollars were from a 2014 pharmaceutical settlement.
The Edwards administration said that they were not legally Landry’s dollars to spend and that under state law, the attorney general was required to turn over the money in escrow to the state treasury. Landry’s predecessor, Buddy Caldwell, never remitted the money as required, however, according to the Edwards administration.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte