Courts reconsidering recusal of Supreme Court justice in legacy oil cases

By Dawn Geske | Dec 16, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance has been asked to review a case regarding the removal of a Louisiana Supreme Court justice by his fellow justices to prevent him from hearing two legacy oil cases.

Justice Jeffery Hughes was removed from the two cases last year after attorneys for the defending oil companies involved in the cases pointed out that he had received campaign contributions from a political action committee (PAC) from the plaintiff’s lawyers involved in the legacy oil cases. Hughes received the money for his 2012 campaign when he was elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Hughes fought the recusal in federal court, which was dismissed by Vance in October. In her decision, she maintained that the Eleventh Amendment bars citizens from suing their state in federal court. She was asked to reconsider her position as the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the landowners in these oil cases' free speech rights were being violated by Hughes' recusal. Hughes has also filed a similar motion.

Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA), while not a party to the legacy suits, is monitoring the situation on behalf of its oil and gas members, but doesn’t have plans to fight the matter.

“There are situations when trade associations will interject with litigation,” Tyler Gray, general counsel at LMOGA told the Louisiana Record. “We would have to have direction from our members to take such a step. It is a very aggressive step. Unless we were to intervene as a potential stakeholder, we wouldn’t really participate in the litigation strategy.”

Whether having Hughes on the case would sway the outcome of the case is unknown, but Gray speculated that “it could affect the case."

"You’re going to have a judge weighing in on a decision that is sympathetic to that case – sympathetic more to the plaintiff than the defendant, so it could potentially have an effect on the outcome," Hughes said.

The lawsuits in question were brought to court in 2003 when landowners sued for damages to their land by the oil and gas companies. The lawsuit extends to the oil and gas companies, as well as their legacy operators of the land. The suits are only handled by a select group of attorneys in Louisiana.

Hughes' removal from these cases comes as a result of large contributions that were made by attorney John Carmouche as part of a PAC. Carmouche is the attorney to several landowners and parish governments in a series of lawsuits against the oil and gas companies. Hughes’ fellow justices had him recused from two appeals made by Carmouche before the court.

“Plaintiffs will pool their money and donate it to a political action committee that will have a judge elected and this candidate will move forward on those grounds,” said Gray.

The oil companies have also asked that Hughes be removed from the case involving lawyer Rock Palermo, who also contributed to Carmouche’s Clean Water and Air PAC that supported Hughes in 2012.

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Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association Louisiana Supreme Court

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