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Watchdog: Accountability

Louisiana court: Give contractor records about cancellation

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Associated Press,Watchdog,Medicare and Medicaid,Accountability,Government Contractors,Law

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana must give a fired contractor records about cancellation of its $200 million contract to process Medicaid claims, the state appeal court in Baton Rouge ruled in response to an open records request.

The Jindal administration canceled Client Network Services Inc.'s 10-year contract after news about a federal grand jury subpoena to look into how the contract was awarded.

The Gaithersburg, Md., company, which filed a wrongful termination lawsuit last year, argues that the documents will show it did nothing wrong.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Friday, rejecting arguments by Louisiana's attorney general that giving CNSI the records would interfere with a criminal investigation and upholding a district judge's decision that most of the records are public.

Louisiana won't appeal Friday's ruling, Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, head of the public corruption unit, told The Advocate.

But, he said, "if there's any danger of disclosure regarding specific parts of our investigation, we will certainly step forward and fight those if it means we have to do it on a piecemeal basis ... The investigation is still ongoing."

CNSI attorney Michael W. McKay said, "We have been stonewalled from the very beginning. The state has been claiming we did X, Y and Z, and that's why they terminated the contract. We said, 'That's bull. You did not have grounds to.' Let's see what the documents say."

When it canceled the contract, the state cited a Louisiana law that states: "If the person awarded the contract has acted fraudulently or in bad faith, the contract shall be declared null and void."

A former CNSI executive, Bruce Greenstein, was head of the state health department when the contract was awarded. He resigned shortly after it was terminated.

The state alleged improper communication between Greenstein and CNSI officials as one of the reasons for contract cancellation.

Greenstein and CNSI have denied wrongdoing.

District Judge Tim Kelley was correct to rule for McKay, a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal wrote in a unanimous decision.

"The attorney general's interpretation of the public records exemption is not based on the unequivocal language of the statute and is in derogation of the requirement of liberal construction in favor of the public's right of access to public records," according to the ruling.

The attorney general claimed access to the records would "gut" the law enforcement exemption anytime a criminal investigation involved records held by a public body.

The appeal court noted that Kelley said prosecutors may hold back records, "which might tend to show the mental impression, conclusions, opinions or investigative processes of the Attorney General's office."

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