BATON ROUGE - Democratic state Rep. Neil Abramson is accused of violating state ethics law for his role in promoting legislation that an opponent says would benefit the lawmaker's legal firm.
Baton Rouge attorney Don Carmouche, who represents landowners suing oil and gas firms, says he filed a complaint with the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program over Abramson's sponsorship of legislation that would benefit the energy industry. Carmouche's complaint says the legislation directly benefits Abramson as well as his firm, "as it further increases the hurdles landowners must overcome to get their land restored."
Abramson is a shareholder at Liskow & Lewis in New Orleans. Among other things he defends toxic torts and class action cases.
He fired back at Carmouche saying, "I will not be intimidated or bullied by self-serving, organized opponents to this legislation."
The reform measure that earlier this week cleared the House Civil Law Committee - chaired by Abramson - would resolve one of the energy industry's complaints that anyone who owns land that was formerly used for drilling, whether polluted or not, could benefit from filing a lawsuit without having to prove damages.
House Bill 618 calls for property damaged by oil and gas drilling and production to be cleaned up as soon as possible. It provides for the Department of Natural Resources to approve the most feasible plan to evaluate and clean up polluted sites once a company admits liability in court.
"I welcome any challenge they want to bring forward," Abramson said in a statement. "I am completely true to my oath, and I am fighting for a cleaner environment."
Critics of legacy lawsuits say plaintiffs' lawyers try to game the system and extract inflated settlements from oil and gas companies named as defendants in the lawsuits.
Carmouche is a partner at Talbot, Carmouche and Marcello firm in Baton Rouge, a firm heavily involved in legacy lawsuit litigation.
"I have been attacked for making money on legacy cases," Carmouche said in a statement. "I have. Basically, I invented this area of the law because it was necessary. If big oil had not engaged in intentional and deliberate pollution of land for decades, this area of the law would be unnecessary."
In the meantime, Carmouche's firm is attempting to depose a Louisiana State University researcher who wrote an economic impact study on legacy lawsuits.
LSU Energy Center assistant director and professor David Dismukes in February released a study revealing the state economy had lost an estimated $6.8 billion and missed out on the creation of more than 30,000 jobs over the past eight years due to legacy lawsuits.
His legal team says Dismukes should not have to be subjected to a deposition because he is not directly involved in any pending legacy lawsuit litigation, the study has not been relied on by any case and that forcing Dismukes to attend a deposition would create a chilling effect on academic freedom.
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