NEW ORLEANS -- A new advertisement from a New Orleans law firm highlights a practice that some critics claim is eroding Louisiana’s already-tarnished judicial reputation.
Venue shopping, a legal strategy where plaintiffs choose a court more friendly to their case, is fueling Louisiana’s high ranking on the American Tort Reform Association's (ATRA) annual “Judicial Hellholes” list, according to one expert.
“Rampant venue shopping in Louisiana unfairly distorts legal outcomes by allowing plaintiffs to select friendly judges to hear their cases,” Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch told the Louisiana Record. “It is one of the main reasons that our state legal climate is so often rated among the worst in the country.”
In a recent commercial, New Orleans-based attorney Greg DiLeo serves as the host of a “legal minute” segment, in which he explains that personal injury suits can be filed either in the parish where the accident happened, the parish where the defendant lives or the parish where the plaintiff lives. Bad venues, he said, have juries who are more skeptical, while good venues can return a better result.
“It is remarkable that any lawyer would turn this questionable practice into a marketing tactic,” Landry said of the commercial.
Venue changes in Louisiana were previously at the discretion of judges, but the legislature changed that in 2007. Today, Landry said, the Orleans Parish Civil District has developed a reputation as one of the most plaintiff-friendly courts. Until recently, however, she said that was simply an industry-recognized secret.
“But never before have we seen this practice described in such vivid and candid terms,” Landry said of new advertisements.
The ATRA ranked Louisiana sixth in the nation on its annual “Judicial Hellholes” list for 2015-2016. The latest ranking sees the state move up from its seventh-place ranking in the previous year’s report, beneath Madison County, Illinois and ahead of Hidalgo County, Texas.
The entire state of California tops this year’s list.
In addition to venue shopping, the latest list also identified judges’ close ties to pro-plaintiffs groups and repeated lawsuits against its largest industry, oil and gas, as two other reasons for the state’s ranking.
DiLeo ends his commercial by providing the number for his New Orleans-based personal injury practice.
“Where your lawyer chooses to file your case could have a tremendous impact on its value and strength,” he said in the commercial.
Though proponents for tort reform hope to push through additional measures to lower Louisiana’s ranking on the “Hellholes” list, they warn that Gov. John Bel Edwards, will likely veto such efforts.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, told The Advocate that his group would take a “wait and see” attitude with a package of bills it drafted to affect tort reform.
“Whether it is real or not, the very perception of venue manipulation undermines public confidence in the legal system and contributes to the reputation of our state as a judicial hellhole,” Landry said.