Louisiana utility regulators rescind contract given to suspended lawyer
Consultant also has business ties to Commissioner Eric Skrmetta
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (right) questions consultant Scott McQuaig about his qualifications and suspended law license on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Image taken from meeting live stream)
The Louisiana Public Service Commission on Tuesday rescinded a state contract it awarded to a consultant with ties to one of the commissioners who approved the deal last month.
In a 3-2 vote, the Public Service Commission reversed its Dec. 14 decision to hire Scott McQuaig as a consultant on electric vehicle charging stations. The commission will reopen the bidding process.
McQuaig, a former personal-injury attorney from Metairie, said he surrendered his law license in March 2019 and thereafter opened his own consulting firm, the McQ Group. He was the only bidder on a contract worth $44,000 to research whether electric vehicle charging stations should be considered a public utility under the Public Service Commission’s jurisdiction.
McQuaig had done previous work for the commission, both as a consultant and as outside counsel. He won two contracts in 2020 worth nearly $180,000 total for consulting work on 5G utility pole attachments and cybersecurity issues. He also held two contracts in 2013 worth more than $350,000 combined to serve as outside counsel to help the commission establish disaster planning best practices and rules and regulations for prison phone systems, according to PSC records.
His latest bid sparked controversy when Commissioner Foster Campbell (D-Shreveport) alleged a conflict of interest between McQuaig and Commissioner Eric Skrmetta (R-Metairie). As detailed in previous reports from the Illuminator, McQuaig and Skrmetta have personal and business ties that go back decades, and Skrmetta voted to award McQuaig each of the five contracts.
The pair performed legal work for each other and founded several social organizations and a political advocacy group, according to Jefferson Parish court records and the business filings with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
When the electric charging stations contract was up for a vote last month, Campbell planned to question McQuaig regarding his qualifications and his relationship with Skrmetta. But McQuaig unexpectedly left the meeting shortly before he was called to testify. Instead, Skrmetta took the floor, repudiating the conflict of interest allegations and said he would answer any questions on McQuaig’s behalf.
Having previously postponed awarding of the contract due to the conflict-of-interest allegations, PSC Chairman Craig Greene of Baton Rouge, a Republican whose votes regularly cross party lines, called the matter to a vote at the Dec. 14 meeting and approved McQuaig as the winning bidder.
The following day, Campbell sent Greene a letter complaining that Skrmetta should not have been allowed to speak on behalf of McQuaig when the majority of the commissioners had previously agreed to have McQuaig answer for himself. Greene granted Campbell’s request for a rehearing, bringing the matter to Tuesday’s meeting, which McQuaig attended.
Under questioning by Campbell, McQuaig said he was unaware he was needed to testify at last month’s meeting and explained that he left because he had to pick up his vehicle from a mechanic’s shop.
“I was never told that I was needed to speak at the last meeting,” McQuaig said.
McQuaig admitted to commissioners he does not have specific experience with electric vehicle regulation but brought along a business associate he believes is qualified for the job. The associate, Richard Demint, a former executive for AT&T, has also worked as a consultant for the Public Service Commission.
Campbell also questioned McQuaig about the suspension of his law license. McQuaig said he voluntarily agreed to the suspension, which he said was only interim. But when pressed further, he would not say if he is trying to get his license back and said the matter has nothing to do with the Public Service Commission contract in question.
“Well, it matters a hell of a lot to me when you’re dealing with the public’s money,” Campbell said.
Skrmetta said rescinding the contract will only discourage companies from wanting to work with the commission.
“I can guarantee we will have fewer people bidding,” Skrmetta said. “This isn’t about electric charging stations … this is about vengeance.”
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