The Louisiana Public Service Commission approved more than $500,000 in contracts, ultimately paid by customers on their utility bills, to Scott McQuaig, a lawyer with a troubling record who has co-founded multiple ventures with Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta. The Commission approved one contract with McQuaig after he had been suspended indefinitely from practicing law by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Commissioner Skrmetta did not recuse himself in any vote to approve McQuaig’s contracts, instead seconding the motions to approve two of the contracts and making the motion to approve a contract one time, despite his multi-decade relationship with McQuaig.
The contracts with McQuaig call into question whether and how the Commission vets contracts for conflicts of interests with Commissioners, and whether it checks the backgrounds of contractors prior to entering into agreements without outside entities that will be paid with ratepayer dollars.
Commissioner Skrmetta did not respond to a request for comment.
Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III said he was unaware of the long-standing relationship between Commissioner Skrmetta and McQuaig when he voted on the matters.
Commissioner Craig Greene said that, “As a result of [the Commission’s] process [to determine consultants’ qualifications], I do know that Mr. McQuaig has been qualified for everything he has been hired for. I trust the process to determine if there will be any issues with a consultant taking part in a docket.”
“I do not know the extent of Mr. McQuaig’s relationship with Commissioner Skrmetta, but it is never surprising for Commissioners to know all the consultants who place bids to the Commission,” Greene continued.
Commission Staff sent the Energy and Policy Institute its policy on approving outside contracts, but otherwise did not comment. The Energy and Policy Institute has requested copies of McQuaig’s proposals to the Commission dating back to 2013 and all “performance evaluations” conducted on his contracts pursuant to the Commission’s General Order governing the hiring of outside attorneys and consultants.
McQuaig’s Long History with Commissioner Skrmetta
McQuaig and Skrmetta have a long history together, dating back to at least 1995, including incorporating ventures and at times sharing the same business address in Metairie, Louisiana. Skrmetta was one of McQuaig’s personal attorneys as far back as 2004, according to Jefferson Parish legal filings.
Skrmetta and McQuaig co-founded Jefferson Alliance Inc. in March 1995, according to records maintained by the Louisiana Secretary of State. The organization last filed a report with the Secretary of State in 2010. The organization was also known as the Jefferson Alliance for Good Government Inc.
In March 2004, Skrmetta and McQuaig formed two more non-profit organizations, Louisiana Soap Box Derby Inc. and Safari Club International Skull & Bones.
Attempts to reach McQuaig for comment were unsuccessful.
Skrmetta represented McQuaig in legal proceedings before the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish, mostly on items of a personal nature. In 2004, Skrmetta represented McQuaig when McQuaig’s wife at the time petitioned for divorce. McQuaig was sued in 2005 by William Chad Stelly for more than $156,000 that Stelly claimed McQuaig failed to pay back. Skrmetta was one of McQuaig’s attorneys in the Stelly case, according to legal records; McQuaig lost a motion for summary judgment in the case. McQuaig sued Encompass Insurance in 2007 for what he claimed was the company’s failure to pay for damages to his home caused by Hurricane Katrina. Skrmetta was McQuaig’s attorney in the Encompass case.
McQuaig has served as the notary for some of Skrmetta’s legal documents. In July 2016 McQuaig notarized the creation of a trust for Skrmetta’s children and for an “Act of Habitation” in which Skrmetta’s wife gave him $120,000 in exchange for “a right of habitation for life”. The “right of habitation for life” transferred payment responsibility for utilities and other home expenses, some of which had previously been the responsibility of his wife, Deborah Skrmetta, pursuant to a prenuptial agreement filed with Jefferson Parish.
Adrie de Waal served as the witness to the $120,000 gift. De Waal is Skrmetta’s Executive Assistant at the Public Service Commission and her LinkedIn profile lists her as the General Manager of New Orleans Distillers, another business owned by Skrmetta.
Skrmetta and McQuaig have used the same address, 100 Lilac Street, Metairie, Louisiana, in business registration, campaign finance, and regulatory forms for at least three years, according to records reviewed by the Energy and Policy Institute.
McQuaig listed his address as 100 Lilac Street as early as 2004, according to incorporation records maintained by the Louisiana Secretary of State. McQuaig still used the Lilac Street address for business purposes as late as July 31, 2020.
100 Lilac Street was also listed as Skrmetta’s PSC District 1 office location as early as April 2009, according to the certificate of service of an Entergy filing at the time. Skrmetta’s address was still listed at 100 Lilac Street in a 2012 filing with the Commission by Occidental.
Commissioner Skrmetta did not recuse himself from any vote regarding McQuaig or his companies.
McQuaig Continued to Win Contracts Despite Checkered Past
The Commission approved McQuaig-run firms for at least four contracts worth more than $500,000, according to a review of Commission records by the Energy and Policy Institute.
The Commission approved two contracts for McQuaig’s law firm, McQuaig and Associates, in May 2013. McQuaig and Associates won a contract of up to $264,950 to serve as outside counsel for the Louisiana Public Service Commission’s effort to establish “Best Practices” protocols for disaster planning by utilities, and a contract for up to $96,000 to serve as outside counsel for establishing “rules and regulations specific to the regulation of prison telephone communications systems”. The disaster planning item was added to the agenda “at the request of Commissioner Skrmetta.” Skrmetta seconded the motions both times to approve the contracts with McQuaig and Associates.
After the approving of those contracts, but before other contracts the Commission approved for McQuaig, McQuaig began to become the target of lawsuits. He has been sued at least five times in Jefferson Parish since the beginning of 2014, according to a review of court records. The suits against McQuaig alleged legal malpractice, ethical violations, failure to pay for services rendered, and theft. Three of the five cases were dismissed after the parties resolved their differences out of court.
Sara Pitre, a former client of McQuaig’s, sued him in November 2014, alleging that his firm settled two lawsuits on her behalf without her knowledge “in an effort to enrich himself”. In October 2016, McQuaig was sued by Richard Folse, who alleged legal malpractice causing his seafood business to lose settlement monies owed to it from the BP Deepwater Horizon settlement. Just as in Pitre’s case, Folse alleged that McQuaig ignored his attempts to contact him.
In January 2017, McQuaig lost a suit filed against him and his law firm, McQuaig and Associates, by Diagnostic Management Affiliates PPO LLC. The judgement awarded Diagnostic Management Affiliates more than $88,000, not including accrued interest. Some of the fees owed to Diagnostic Management Affiliates were garnished from McQuaig’s bank account.
Despite that track record, the Louisiana PSC approved McQuaig’s law firm for another contract, this time for $39,700 in November 2017, to act as outside counsel for a dispute between two utilities. Commissioner Skrmetta made the motion to approve the contract, Commissioner Francis seconded the motion, and the Commission unanimously approved the contract.
McQuaig’s legal struggles continued to mount. McQuaig was sued by David Groome and Norman Manton Jr. in April 2019, who alleged that McQuaig’s failure to act caused their lawsuit to be dismissed. After dismissal, Groome and Manton said McQuaig never informed them of the judge’s decision.
In early 2019, the Louisiana Supreme Court indefinitely suspended McQuaig from practicing law in the state.
McQuaig won yet another contract from the Louisiana PSC in July 2020, even after his suspension by the state Supreme Court. This time, the Commission hired McQuaig as a consultant via the McQ Group LLC, worth $128,500, to advise the Commission about telecommunication attachments to electric utility poles. Commissioner Skrmetta “directed [Commission] staff to seek proposals” on the topic in February 2019. When the contract came up for vote in July 2020, Commissioner Skrmetta seconded the motion of Commissioner Francis and it carried unanimously. Before being approved for the contract, McQuaig contributed $500 to Skrmetta’s campaign in late 2019.
The McQ Group submitted a contract for $49,550 on September 30, 2020 to support the Commission’s “monitoring the area of cybersecurity”. Just as before, Commissioner Skrmetta issued the original directive requiring the Commission Staff “to issue an RFP for [an] outside consultant to assist” on the topic in June 2020. The Commission is expected to vote on the latest proposal at the monthly Commission meeting on October 14.
Header image source: YouTube