BATON ROUGE - Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) President Don Briggs says he is "outraged" over an ethics complaint filed yesterday against a state lawmaker who has advanced legislation reforming legacy lawsuit litigation.
Baton Rouge attorney Don Carmouche, who represents landowners suing oil and gas firms, 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 law firm, "as it further increases the hurdles landowners must overcome to get their land restored."
"This ethics complaint by Don Carmouche is yet another lame attempt by trial lawyers to draw attention away from the facts of the situation regarding legacy lawsuits," Briggs said. "The facts are that more than 270 legacy lawsuits have been filed with more than 1,500 defendants.
"These lawsuits have led to the loss of nearly 1,200 new wells in Louisiana, translating to an astonishing $6.8 billion dollars in lost drilling investments. The state of Louisiana has also lost over 30,000 jobs as a result of these frivolous suits."
Briggs said that the trial lawyers only want to profit from "the very industry in the state of Louisiana that is keeping the economy thriving" while they "are out to line their own pockets by this court-sanctioned extortion, also known as legacy lawsuits."
His comments were echoed by Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
She said Carmouche's complaint is part of a pattern of trial lawyer intimidation. She noted a report from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources indicating 78 percent of all the legacy cases filed present no evidence of actual damages, according to state evidence standards.
She said a video recently exposed by the American Tort Reform Association features a plaintiff's attorney consultant giving a lecture to teach other plaintiffs' attorneys how to file phony legacy suits.
Landry said that in the video, the lawyer describes Louisiana's system as a lawsuit "lottery" and outlines an 11-step plan for how to blame oil and gas companies for natural occurrences in Louisiana's landscape.
She also noted that earlier this year, David Dismukes, a professor and associate director of the Louisiana State University Center for Energy Studies, published a study determining legacy lawsuits have cost Louisiana citizens more than 30,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in wages over the past eight years.
Carmouche is attempting to subpoena Dismukes to question him about the study.
"This was nothing more than an attempt to harass, intimidate, and unjustifiably discredit Mr. Dismukes for his work on the topic," Landry said.
"Now, Mr. Carmouche is attacking Rep. Neil Abramson, sponsor of HB 618, which was passed out of committee on Tuesday, after an extensive discussion and debate. These ethics complaints are just the latest in a series of tactics Mr. Carmouche has used in an attempt to abuse the law to extort companies and intimidate individuals to discourage any resolution of this problem."
In his ethics complaint, Carmouche accuses Abramson of violating state ethics law for his role in promoting the reforms he says would benefit Abramson's legal firm.
Abramson is a shareholder at Liskow & Lewis in New Orleans. He defends toxic torts and class action cases, among other things.
He responded by saying he "would not be intimidated or bullied by self-serving, organized opponents to this legislation."
He also said he is "not compromised in the slightest" involving his work as a legislator and partner at a defense firm.