The function and operations of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office was the topic of discussion at the meeting of the Winnfield Rotary Club held on November 17, 2021. The speaker for the meeting was Mary Lou Blackley, Winnfield native and attorney, who retired from service in the state Attorney General’s Office and returned to Winnfield in 2018.
Ms. Blackley, who worked for the Attorney General’s regional office in Shreveport from 2004 through 2018, explained that the Louisiana Attorney General is, according to the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, “the chief legal officer of the state.” The Office has seven divisions which focus on different subject matters within the authority of the attorney general.
Mary Lou explained that the AG’s civil division researches legal questions submitted by elected officials within Louisiana, and represents those elected officials in lawsuits when necessary. It also represents the state in any matter in which a state statute is attacked as unconstitutional. The criminal division investigates and prosecutes criminal cases involving issues of statewide concern such as cybercrime, human trafficking, and Medicaid fraud, as well as handling criminal prosecutions as requested by district attorneys across the state. The investigation division assists in the investigation of the criminal matters being handled by the criminal division, and initiates and handles all investigations of Medicaid fraud.
The public protection section handles matters involving complaints by citizens related to illegal business practices and widespread distribution of defective or dangerous products and materials, cases involving recoupment of state funds wrongfully obtained, and similar matters. The AG’s office also has a collection section, which engages in recoupment of money owed to the state based on student loans, or other types of money judgments obtained in favor of the state.
The administrative division handles all matters related to administering the office which employs hundreds of attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, and their supervisors, as well as technical support staff, and the expenses related to operating a large law office.
Ms. Blackley pointed out to her audience that, in many states within the United States, individuals may not bring lawsuits against the state because of sovereign immunity granted to the individual states under the U. S. Constitution. However, this immunity may be given up by the state, and in Louisiana, the legislature has done so to allow lawsuits against the state for matters involving personal injury and contract. Therefore, the state of Louisiana requires numerous attorneys to represent it in these cases, and the Attorney General’s office determines which attorneys represent the state in the various lawsuits. Most of those are directly employed in the AG’s litigation division, and the Attorney General has discretion to retain attorneys in private practice to represent the state and its employees in any such matter.
Ms. Blackley was a member of the AG’s litigation division, which handles lawsuits in which the state, its departments and agencies, and state employees are sued for recovery of damages due to personal injury or civil rights violations. The litigation division has its office in Baton Rouge in the Livingston Building across the pond behind the Louisiana Capitol Building. It also has five satellite offices because lawsuits filed against the state for personal injury recovery are most often filed in the parish in which the alleged injury occurred. The largest is in New Orleans, and there are smaller offices in Shreveport, Alexandria, Lafayette and Monroe.
Mary Lou spent all her years with the Attorney General’s Office in the Shreveport satellite office, and most of her cases involved medical malpractice claims against medical personnel employed by the State of Louisiana, primarily those employed with LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, which has a medical school and several graduate residency programs. She, along with the eight to ten other attorneys in her office, also represented the state and state employees in general personal injury claims such as automobile accidents, lawsuits filed by prisoners against the Louisiana Department of Corrections, road hazard claims against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for alleged highway defects, workers compensation claims by state employees alleged to have been hurt on the job and rendered unable to work. During Ms. Blackley’s tenure with the office, her division employed some 80 to 85 attorneys, including those housed in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport, Lafayette, Alexandria and Monroe, at any given time, plus numerous paralegals, secretaries and other support staff.
At the conclusion of the program, the meeting was adjourned with the Rotary motto, “Service above self!”
Pictured above: Left Rotarian Mary Lou Blackley, Rotary Club President Jodi Taylor