Judicial reform group says plaintiff’s attorneys setting dangerous precedent in Louisiana governor’s race

    Contributions by a single law firm to a super PAC that is targeting U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the Louisiana governor’s race is unprecedented and troubling, according to the head of a watchdog group that advocates judicial reform.

    Campaign finance reports filed in advance of the Oct. 24 primary election show the Louisiana Water Coalition, which has been airing scathing ads about Vitter’s questionable past, is funded 100% by plaintiff’s attorney John Carmouche with the firm Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello. The firm has filed hundreds of legacy lawsuits against big oil companies over the past few years. Vitter is a well-known supporter of those big oil companies and has been a critic of legacy lawsuit abuse.

    “The firm put up a $600,000 contribution and a $500,000 loan to the effort for a total $1.1 million investment,” says Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. “This is unprecedented because it’s the first super PAC in Louisiana that’s been solely funded by one special interest. And it’s significant because it illustrates the lengths to which this one law firm will go to protect its lucrative environmental law practice.”

    The Carmouche firm has filed about half of the 400 legacy lawsuits in the state. They have won tens of millions of dollars off these cases in the last decade, yet very few properties have been cleaned up as a result, according to Landry. Carmouche did not return a call seeking comment as of this afternoon’s deadline.

    More troubling still, Landry says, is that super PACs like the Louisiana Water Coalition use “innocuous sounding names” to mislead the public about their agenda and interests.

    “This super PAC has nothing to do with water, and it is definitely not bipartisan,” she says.

    Landry points to Carmouche’s involvement in another recent election, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes’ 2012 successful campaign, as an example of why such special interest interference is harmful in political contests. At least three times, Hughes has been asked to recuse himself from cases because Carmouche represented the plaintiffs.

    “That’s why it is incumbent upon LLAW and other watchdog groups to raise public awareness about the growing influence personal injury trial lawyers have on Louisiana’s political system and their increasing attempts to coordinate donations to influence state, local and judicial elections,” Landry says.

    LLAW will release a report Tuesday detailing the rise of spending by personal injury trial lawyers in Louisiana political campaigns over the past seven years. Landry says the findings will serve as a wakeup call.

    “This highly coordinated, multi-million dollar effort shows the lawsuit industry is more invested in fighting reforms than ever before,” she says. “And super PACs have allowed them to even further concentrate and intensify their political spending.”

    —Stephanie Riegel

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