Don Briggs Jan. 15, 2014, 5:19pm
It is no secret that Louisiana has a litigious legal climate. As Louisiana now ranks 49th out of 50 by the United States Chamber of Commerce for legal fairness just ahead of West Virginia.
Recently, the American Tort Reform Association released their Judicial Hellholes 2013-2014 report on state’s legal climates. Louisiana moved up in the pole to the number two 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, according to Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), judicial activism. “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 of Louisiana is the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Since 2008, the Louisiana Supreme Court System has had to overturn more than 40% of the Third Circuits decisions. For clarification, five Circuit Court districts exist in Louisiana. Again, the Third Circuit making up 40% of the decision overturns by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Why is this Third 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 over 350 legacy lawsuits. Unfortunately, a majority of these legacy suits are taking place in this Third Circuit district. With the overturn percentage mentioned above, and a clear suggestion that the Third Circuit is taking part in judicial activism, it is difficult to believe that justice will be served concerning the legacy suits.
While it is easy to single out one particular court district or a specific judge, the entire state ranked 2nd on the Judicial Hellholes list, not simply the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. It is therefore 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.
As these judges have the power to hear, decide and award judgments, 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 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 (SLFPAE), as well as Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes. Therefore, as the oil and gas industry has thousands of named companies listed as defendants in numerous courtrooms across the state, fairness and justice is vital to the survival of this storied 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 of government.