Judge refuses to order AG to sign off on state contracts with anti-discrimination clause

Judge cannot order AG to sign off on state contracts with anti-discrimination clause - 10 p.m.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A 19th Judicial District Court judge ruled that he could not require the Louisiana attorney general to sign off on state contracts with an anti-discrimination clause aimed at protecting members of the LGBT community.

Gov. John Bel Edwards had sued AG Jeff Landry over his decision to blocking dozens of state legal contracts containing that clause.

Matthew Block, executive counsel for the governor, pointed out that the case was dismissed by Judge Donald Johnson based on a technicality. The judge indicated in his decision that the governor was trying a legal approach he was not able to use.

"The judge didn't pass any judgment at all on the governor's right to pursue this matter, the judge didn't make an argument about the executive order and how these contracts should or should not be written," Block said. He added that Edwards could appeal the decision or possibly pursue a different remedy.

In April, the governor signed an executive order aimed at preventing the state from discriminating against members of the LGBT community. As a result, most state contracts include an anti-discrimination clause.

Landry has blocked more than 30 state contracts with outside lawyers because he objected to those LGBT protections. In court, however, Landry's lawyers pointed to several other issues with the contracts as well. For example, they said one only included a cover sheet but no contract. Another, they said, appeared to be more of a consulting rather than legal contract.

"That's all brand new stuff that they raised for the first time today that no one's heard about," Block said.

The judge said state law is unclear about how much power the AG has when it comes to approving contracts. The governor has compared it to little more than paper-pushing, saying the AG gets to make sure the pay is correct and that the lawyers are qualified.

In court, however, Landry lawyer's said the AG had the power to intervene because they said the governor's executive order was a power grab, creating a new protected class not defined in state law.

"I will not cower to executive overreach; rather, I will continue to defend our Constitution and the will of the people," Landry said in a statement.

Block instead argued it was the AG that was making the "power grab."

"[The AG] is taking this unprecedented authority that he says he has, that he believes he has, to look at contracts. He believes he gets to decide who represents the state," Block said.

Edwards filed the lawsuit against Landry on Friday, Sept. 30.

"I believe Jeff Landry is on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of history on this matter," Edwards said when filing the suit. "To tell people they can only have a contract with the state if they are free to discriminate then that just doesn't make sense to me."

Gov. Edward's spokesman Richard Carbo issued the following statement about the decision:

"Today, the presiding judge ruled that the procedural device of a writ of mandamus was not the correct legal mechanism to resolve this issue. This was in no way a ruling on the merits of the executive order. The governor is reviewing his options, but he will not let this issue distract from the important issues facing our state today, nor will he allow state operations to be crippled by the injection of politics into the process of approving legal counsel."

The contracts include agreements to hire lawyers for the Department of Insurance, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the Department of Natural Resources, the Office of Elderly Affairs, the Patients Compensation Fund, the Secretary of State's office, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, the Department of Military Affairs, the State Treasurer, the Department of Economic Development, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the Division of Administration, and Southeastern Louisiana University.

The court appearance is just the latest example of the ongoing power struggle between the two leaders. They have butted heads multiple times since they both took office.

Below is the lawsuit that the governor filed against the AG:

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