With the latest American Tort Reform Foundation Judicial Hellholes report taking a swipe at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ involvement in coastal erosion litigation targeting energy companies, business and industry leaders say Louisiana lawmakers and the public should make civil justice reform a priority in 2017.
Ranking Louisiana as the seventh-worst “judicial hellhole” in the nation, the report also cites the involvement of trial lawyers in Judge Jimmy Genovese’s successful campaign for a state Supreme Court seat and the continued 2010 BP oil spill lawsuits as evidence of the state’s litigious climate.
The foundation further criticized Edwards for picking top donors to handle the oil and gas lawsuits in what it says smells of “pay-for-play cronyism.”
“The governor may believe that squeezing billions from energy producers with the mother of all legacy lawsuits will somehow solve Louisiana’s chronic budget problems and secure generous campaign support from trial lawyers for the rest of his political career,” the ATRF says. “But his high-rolling bet may come up snake-eyes if energy companies and other industries decide that expanding in or relocating to Louisiana isn’t worth the risk.”
Job creation and economic growth could suffer, the foundation says. Budget problems could worsen.
In a statement, Edwards’ office says the “phony” report is “funded by out of state special interests that only prefer a legal system that gives them an unfair advantage over the people of our state and small businesses. Gov. Edwards is far too busy fighting to restore Louisiana’s coast and stabilize our budget to respond to a shamelessly biased report.”
Capitalizing on the report’s release, the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association issued a statement from its president, Chris John, who says the ranking shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“At every turn, the oil and gas community is met with frivolous lawsuits, inflated and exaggerated judgments, and countless other impediments to judicial prudence. The current legal climate in the state threatens jobs at a time when our state can ill afford economic setbacks,” John says.
The foundation also says disabilities-access lawsuits and the state’s excessively high threshold for jury trials are vexing businesses.
Dawn Starns, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, says Louisiana needs a legal environment that is fair to everyone.
“Running a small business in a litigious culture is a constant balancing act. Small-business owners have to think through every decision to try to avoid a costly lawsuit down the road,” she says, adding that small businesses are particularly vulnerable to lawsuits and bogus accusations because they lack the means to counter them.