Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Republican gubernatorial candidates, discussed the problems facing Louisiana's civil justice system during a forum arranged by the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) and the Coalition for Common Sense (CCS) on Tuesday.
“Louisiana voters want and need to hear from the candidates about how they will fix our state’s broken legal system and work to create more jobs, not lawsuits,” Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch said. “This forum gave the gubernatorial candidates that opportunity, and we were honored that Lt. Gov. Dardenne and Sen. Vitter took the time to participate. There’s no doubt, the outcome of this election will have a significant impact on job creation and litigation for many years to come.”
During the 2015 Gubernatorial Forum on Lawsuit Reform, Vitter acknowledged the sordid state of civil affairs, especially compared to the rest of the nation.
“For too long Louisiana has regularly been ranked as having the second worst legal climate in the country,” he said. “We need reform now, and it’s great that we’re having a substantive discussion about these issues today. I am the only candidate in this race with a plan to fix our broken system, and help Louisiana businesses grow and succeed."
Dardenne recognized the problems Louisiana faces.
“I understand the problems we have in Louisiana from a practical standpoint when it comes to lawsuits,” Dardenne said. “I understand how they affect society, individual claimants and defendants.”
The discussion was moderated by former state Rep. Chuck McMains, who authored significant tort reform legislation during Gov. Mike Foster’s administration.
“I was very encouraged by both of the candidates’ knowledge of and willingness to address Louisiana’s legal challenges,”McMains said.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the two other major gubernatorial candidates, also were invited to the hour-long forum held in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, but they were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts:
Vitter and Dardenne also addressed questions regarding excessive litigation, forum shopping, legacy lawsuits and the impact of the state’s $50,000 jury trial threshold, which is, by far, the highest in the nation.
In response to the question whether they would support or oppose legislation to establish proper venue and discourage forum shopping in civil litigation, Vitter said he would support the proposal.
"As governor, I will bring it forward in my first term,” Vitter said. “It is one of the crucial lawsuit abuse reforms that we need in Louisiana.”
Dardenne echoed the sentiment.
“I think there is a considerable amount of forum shopping that goes on,” Dardenne said. “I think it is appropriate to allow a plaintiff to file suit in whatever venue he resides. That is clearly a part of Louisiana law. And the venue to bring defendants to answer for their alleged wrongdoings ought to be in a place where the substantial injury has occurred. Our laws do not allow us to limit it in that way right now, and I would support such efforts.”
While both candidates promised support of reform, there are already many who are actively working toward a more civilized civil judicial system.
The LLAW and CCS, both representing more than 10,000 professional associations, companies, and individuals, have worked to ensure lawsuit fairness for everyone in Louisiana.
The two group are calling on all gubernatorial and legislative candidates across the state to support legal reform, specifically including efforts to eliminate the state’s $50,000 jury trial threshold; amend state venue laws to require a closer connection between a lawsuit and the area in which it may be filed; improve judicial transparency by putting court budgets and contracts, as well as personal financial disclosures of judges online; and improve the regulatory process for handling environmental lawsuits and discourage the filing of frivolous claims.
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform recently ranked Louisiana’s lawsuit climate as 49th out of all 50 states. In addition, the the Center for Public Integrity gave Louisiana an “F” for judicial accountability and the American Tort Reform Association has singled out Louisiana as a “judicial hellhole” five years running.
The majority of voters agree with these assessments.
A poll last year found 72 percent of Louisiana voters believe there are too many lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits in the state, and 76 percent said state laws need to be strengthened to limit lawsuit abuse.
The LLAW and the CCS hopes that their call for reform will address the concerns of the voters and reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits that plague the state.
The 2015 Gubernatorial Forum on Lawsuit Reform is available for immediate viewing online here.
In addition, the forum will be broadcast statewide on the Louisiana Hometown Network. For a complete television broadcast schedule, go here.