Louisiana Public Service Commission awards contracts to man with suspended law license

Contractor has personal connections to Commissioner Eric Skrmetta

By: - January 3, 2022 8:30 am
Louisiana Public Service Commission awards contracts to man with suspended law license

An electric Porsche Taycan charges at a station in Hammond, La., on Dec. 28, 2021. (WES MULLER/LOUISIANA ILLUMINATOR)

The Louisiana Public Service Commission has given $220,000 worth of government contracts to a consultant with professional and personal connections to one of its commissioners, even after the consultant’s law license was suspended in 2019. 

The commission awarded Scott McQuaig two contracts in 2020 worth nearly $180,000 total for consulting work on 5G utility pole attachments and cybersecurity issues. It also awarded him a third contract worth $44,000 in December to consult on electric vehicle charging stations. 

The former lawyer, under his consulting company the McQ Group, won’t be acting as an attorney for the commission, though his latest contract work includes “research of legal and policy issues” on whether the charging stations should be under the commission’s jurisdiction. It may also involve drafting of proposed state regulations. McQuaig was the only person who submitted a bid for the consulting work awarded in December.

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“The McQ Group will be working with in-house legal Staff on this research but would not be making a jurisdictional determination,” Colby Cook, the commission’s press secretary, said in an email. “Staff has also not ruled out the possibility of retaining outside counsel depending on the breadth of the initial research.”

Before McQuaig ran into problems with his law license, the Public Service Commission had been using him to do legal work. He won two commission contracts in 2013 worth more than $350,000 total to serve as outside counsel to help the commission establish best practices for disaster planning and to help establish rules and regulations for prison phone systems, according to commission records.  

McQuaig is a former personal-injury attorney from Metairie whose law license was suspended on March 6, 2019, according to a Louisiana Supreme Court ruling. According to a report by the Louisiana Record, a legal journal that covers the state’s justice system, his suspension came more than three years after a former client accused him of misappropriating settlement funds.

McQuaig could not be reached for comment at his listed phone numbers, email or office addresses. The phone number on his company’s letterhead, which he used recently to submit the bid for the electric vehicle charging stations contract, is no longer in service. 

Commissioner Eric Skrmetta (R-Metairie), who voted in favor on each of the five contracts given to McQuaig since 2013, has personal and professional connections to McQuaig — a point that drew heated exchanges from other commissioners as McQuaig’s recent bid was being considered for approval at the Dec. 14 meeting. 

Skrmetta, also a Metairie attorney, co-founded two nonprofit organizations with McQuaig, as well as the political organization Jefferson Alliance for Good Government, according to business filings with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office. 

The pair have also performed legal services for each other. In 2016, McQuaig worked as Skrmetta’s notary in the establishment of a trust fund for Skrmetta’s children, according to records with the Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court’s office. Prior to his 2008 election to the commission, Skrmetta worked as McQuaig’s attorney in several civil matters.

Commissioners Lambert Boissiere and Foster Campbell, the two Democrats on the board, planned to question McQuaig during the Dec. 14 public meeting in an effort to determine whether his relationship with Skrmetta posed any ethical or financial conflicts of interest, but McQuaig abruptly left the meeting before they were able to call upon him to testify.

Skrmetta then gave a lengthy speech defending his relationship with McQuaig and repudiating the conflict of interest allegations as a “political attack.” He denied having any conflicts and said his nonprofit work with McQuaig all went unpaid. He then challenged Commissioner Campbell to “go toe-to-toe” and said he would answer any questions on behalf of McQuaig. 

The following day, Dec. 15, Campbell wrote a letter to Chairman Craig Greene asking him to call for a rehearing on the matter, saying Skrmetta should not have been allowed to give an uninterrupted speech on McQuaig’s behalf.

“In Mr. McQuaig’s absence, Commissioner Skrmetta took the unusual step of offering to answer for Mr. McQuaig, going so far as to characterize as ‘nonsense’ the questions which a majority of commissioners, including you, had raised in November,” Campbell wrote. “He spoke for five minutes, loudly dismissing the conflict issues, and you cut me off after one minute of response.” 

Skrmetta did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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