BATON ROUGE – Despite its governor's reported efforts to hire campaign donors as attorneys, Louisiana has dropped from No. 6 to the seventh position on American Tort Reform Association's 2016-17 Judicial Hellholes list, which was issued earlier today.
After coming in sixth on ATRA's 2015-16 Judicial Hellholes list, Louisiana managed to maintain its position in the top nine by finishing behind No. 1 St. Louis, Missouri; No. 2 California; No. 3 New York City's asbestos litigation; No. 4 Florida Supreme Court and South Florida; No. 5 New Jersey; and No. 6, Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards
ATRA outlined the top nine on this year's Judicial Hellhole in a press release. Newport News, Virginia, finished at No. 8 while Hidalgo County, Texas finished at No. 9.
It was Louisiana's governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, that tipped the scale, allowing the state to maintain its spot in the ATRA Judicial Hellhole latest report’s top nine.
"Louisiana has a reputation for plaintiff-friendly venue laws, permissive judges, double-dipping asbestos lawsuits and trust claims, the highest jury threshold in the nation, abuse of consumer protection laws and excessive jury verdicts," an ATRA press release said. "But it is the governor’s attempt to hire campaign contributors to run multibillion-billion coastal erosion litigation against the state’s key energy industry that ensured the Pelican State’s ranking among Judicial Hellholes this year."
Earlier this year, the Edwards administration's apparent efforts to quietly enroll hand-picked attorneys into 39 existing coastal-damage lawsuits against the oil and gas industry became published knowledge.
“This good ol’ boy approach to state litigation undermines public trust in our system and contributes to the nagging reputation that Louisiana is a judicial hellhole,” Melissa Landry of the legal watchdog group Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) told the Louisiana Record. “Like it or not, that’s the perception and perceptions matter—especially when we’re competing on the national and global stage for jobs and investments.”
The governor since has endured widespread rebuke, including a stinging open letter from U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R–LA) from Louisiana's 6th Congressional District. Edwards also was criticized for allegedly trying to pressure coastal parishes to file new litigation against oil and gas companies or stand aside while the state does it for them.
“Gov. Edwards’ ongoing effort to leverage state litigation for the benefit of his political supporters is bad enough, but the administration’s blatant attempt to use contingency fee contracts to do it is even worse,” Landry said.
ATRA issued its first Judicial Hellholes list in 2002 to annually publish various abuses within the civil justice system, largely focusing on jurisdictions where courts have been radically out of balance, according to ATRA's Judicial Hellhole website. More recently, the Judicial Hellholes list has, on occasion, expanded to include the growing influence of legislative and executive branches of government on the courts.
"Of course, most judges do a diligent and fair job for modest pay," ATRA's Judicial Hellhole website says. "Even in Judicial Hellholes jurisdictions, including some that have received national attention, the clear majority of judges are fair, and the negative publicity can be blamed on a few bad apples. Because judges generally set the rules in personal injury lawsuits, and those rulings weigh so heavily on the outcomes of individual cases, it may only take one or two judges who stray from the law to sully the reputation of an entire jurisdiction."