By Don Briggs
It is no secret that Louisiana has a litigious climate. Louisiana now ranks 49th by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for legal fairness, just ahead of West Virginia.
Recently, the American Tort Reform Association released its Judicial Hellholes 2013-2014 report on state’s legal climates. Louisiana moved up in the pole to the No. 2 spot as the worst legal climate only behind California.
What causes the Louisiana court system to receive such poor marks from the legal watchdog community? One reason might be judicial activism, according to Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. “Judicial activism” is defined by LLAW as a “judge who or a court that possesses a tendency to write new law or establish public policy from the bench rather than apply existing laws to the facts and questions before them.”
A specific example of this judicial activism in the court system is the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has the highest rate of rulings in civil cases overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Indeed, of all the circuit court decisions in civil cases across Louisiana that have later been overturned by the state’s high court since 2008, the most reversals, nearly 40 percent originated from the 3rd Circuit – even though the judges’ caseloads and the court’s number of opinions were not notably different. The fact that the Third Circuit’s reversal rate in civil cases is much higher than any other circuit court in Louisiana clearly suggests that the 3rd Circuit is an outlier.
Why is this 3rd circuit court important to Louisiana, and more specifically, how is it important to the oil and gas industry? The Louisiana oil and gas industry is now facing more than 350 Legacy Lawsuits. Unfortunately, a majority of these legacy suits are taking place in this 3rd circuit district. With the overturn percentage mentioned above, it is difficult to believe justice will be served concerning the legacy suits.
Although it is easy to single out one particular court district or a specific judge, the entire state ranked second on the judicial hellholes list. It is crucial that the people elect business-friendly judges in every court district in the state. As this year of 2014 is now in swing, each judge race is important to the oil and gas industry as well as the entire business community.
It is vital that the people of our state research what judge has the longest history of fairness before casting a vote. This issue of fairness not only decides the fate of possibly one company but also that of the entire oil and gas industry.
The oil and gas industry is not only facing these aforementioned legacy suits but also numerous coastal suits by groups and parishes like the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, as well as Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes. Because the oil and gas industry has thousands of named companies listed as defendants in courtrooms across the state, fairness and justice is vital to the survival of this industry.
Tort reform in Louisiana is no longer a political talking point. It is an issue that each business in Louisiana must push for at the highest of levels in our political and judicial systems.
Don Briggs is the president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association.