All in the family: Does Jindal have a conflict of interest on BP legislation?


It’s not surprising that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has served as a handmaiden for the oil-and-gas industry during his six-and-a-half years in Baton Rouge. For one thing, it’s in keeping with the pro-business-at-any-cost, environment-be-damned-philosophy of today’s Republican Party. What’s more, Jindal has been on the receiving end of more than $1 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil, according to some recent research by environmental groups (a figure that strikes me as perhaps a little low.)

Still, despite Jindal’s affinity for the giant energy companies, there was actually some reason to think he might veto what was arguably the most controversial piece of legislation to break forth from this year’s session in Baton Rouge. Nearly two dozen law professors as well as the state’s highest-ranking prosecutor, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, had pleaded with Jinfal to reject the hastily drafted legislation intended to kill a lawsuit by a New Orleans-based levee board that aims to make 97 oil and gas companies pay up to restore vital wetlands that they’ve destroyed. Their strongest argument was that the unclear language in the measure might also prevent local entities from recovering damages from BP, whose recklessness caused the massive 2010 oil spill.

But with the clock winding down, Jindal signed the bill anyway. At first blush, the governor’s move seemed merely a symbol of his intention to do Big Oil’s bidding, at any cost. But did the governor also have a shocking conflict of interest when it comes to BP, one that the Louisiana public was largely not aware of? Was Jindal’s thinking on the bill — or on other matters related with the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, still one of the biggest issues affecting his state — influenced by his younger brother’s work for a key law firm representing BP? 

A stunning new piece on the Louisiana Voice website raises the Jindal family connection to the British oil giant in noting that BP had lobbied heavily for the levee board lawsuit legislation. Its piece quotes John Barry, the former levee board member who had been a driving force behind the lawsuit:

“During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

The article explains:

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive when he signed the bill into law against sound legal advice not to do so, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

The connection is an important one. According to a major report last month from American Lawyer (registration required), the law firm that employs the younger Jindal has been the driving force behind BP’s aggressive new legal strategy of challenging the settlements that it once agreed to. Reports the magazine:

Meanwhile, BP had brought a new firm into the litigation. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher previously had played a secondary role in the company’s criminal plea, having represented BP’s board of directors while Kirkland represented BP. Now Gibson Dunn was taking the lead for BP before the Fifth Circuit: The April 8 appeal was filed by two of the firm’s most accomplished appellate lawyers, Theodore Olson and Miguel Estrada.

In the summer of 2013 BP began to air its complaints in the media. A June Bloomberg Businessweek cover story, “How BP Got Screwed on Gulf Oil Spill Claims,” highlighted claims by plaintiffs who allegedly weren’t harmed by the spill. In the article BP pointed the finger at Juneau, accusing him of approving claims for “fictitious and inflated losses.” On July 18, 2013, BP’s chief executive officer Robert Dudley appeared on CNBC’s “Mad Money” and accused Juneau of “hijacking” the settlement.

To the sum up, BP recently hired the Washington law firm that employs Bobby Jindal’s younger brother, and that firm embarked on a strategy aimed at blocking billions of dollars in settlement monies and legal claims against their new client. At short time later, the governor signs a bill that would have the impact — an unintended consequence, they claim — of blocking governmental lawsuits against BP? On the surface, the whole thing stinks to high heaven.

But right now, there are more questions than there are answers. One thing is clear and undeniable: The people of Louisiana are entitled to open and transparent government. It’s certainly possible that Nikesh Jindal never lobbied his brother on behalf of his firm’s high-profile client, and that Bobby Jindal’s decision to sign the bill was strictly a result of his pro-business philosophy. But the appearance of a conflict of interest is just as bad as an actual conflict. Jindal could have taken steps to avoid that appearance by publicly acknowledging his family ties to BP — yet he chose not to. That is an affront to the citizens he was elected to serve, 

Read the full expose on the work of Gov. Jindal’s brother Nikesh for BP-representing law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher from the Louisiana Voice:

To read more from American Lawyer about Gibson Dunn and BP’s legal strategy, check out:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2014 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • Will this law end up in a challenge that the U.S Supreme Court will eventually decide. Will the court support it or defend the rights of the citizens?

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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