PLAINTIFFS' LAWYERS GET THEIR MAN (ELECTED GOVERNOR)
John Bel Edwards has pledged to be a governor for all Louisianans, but those targeted by o en meritless lawsuit are skeptical. plaintiffs’ lawyers invested record amounts this year to put allies in the governor’s mansion and state legislature. Their targeted campaign spending — fueled by proceeds from the BP oil spill settlement and environmental lawsuits against energy producers — was instrumental in electing Edwards and legislative candidates who favor expansions of civil liability.
Edwards benefitted from more than $4 million spent by his trial lawyer patrons, including $1.1 million in direct campaign contributions and $3 million in spending through super PACs. A trial lawyer himself, Edwards repeatedly blocked efforts to reform Louisiana’s civil justice system during his eight years as a state representative. In fact, he consistently supported bills to increase lawsuits and legal fees benefitting the plaintiffs’ bar. Here are just a few examples:
- Edwards supported legislation in 2010 allowing trial lawyers working on contingency fee contracts to siphon millions of dollars out of Louisiana’s settlement with BP over the Gulf oil spill.
- Edwards opposed a 2012 compromise bill that put environmental remediation ahead of plaintiffs’ lawyers’ profits in environmental contamination lawsuits.
- And Edwards in 2014 led the opposition to every lawsuit fairness bill, including bills that would have eliminated Louisiana’s $50,000 jury trial threshold, reformed the state’s lax venue requirements, and prevented abusive “double dipping” with asbestos claims that erode bankruptcy trust funds set aside for veterans and others with meritorious claims. Edwards also fought attempts to increase transparency and accountability in the attorney general’s office and stood by Caldwell, even after it was revealed that the AG routinely handed out lucrative legal work to top campaign contributors.
Governor-elect Edwards’s legislative record suggests he will veto civil justice reform legislation and work to expand liability on behalf of the plaintiffs’ lawyers who have supported him.
In addition to winning the Louisiana governor’s mansion, plaintiffs’ lawyers also have successfully focused on the state legislature, spending more than $8.5 million on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts since 2008. A recent study found trial lawyer spending far outpaced political contributions by every other industry. None of this is good news for businesses trying to create jobs and promote economic development in the Pelican State. Observers predict that “[t]he consequences for Louisiana taxpayers and the state’s economic competitiveness in the coming years could be dire.”
GOOD NEWS: THE ‘BUDDY SYSTEM’ IS OVER
Voters chose not to reelect incumbent state Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. Caldwell’s much criticized “Buddy System” functioned as a textbook pay-to-play operation wherein he’d hire contingency-fee lawyers to sue deep-pocket corporations on behalf of the state and, in turn, they’d contribute to his campaign coffers. For example, 8 of the 11 law firms working for Caldwell on the state’s case against BP were among his top campaign contributors.
This practice continued despite a law passed in 2014 to end it. Campaign finance reports show 5 of the 7 outside law firms hired by Caldwell in December 2014 to pursue a lawsuit led against drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline donated to his campaign. Caldwell also hired 9 private law firms along with 17 private attorneys working for those firms to pursue state-sponsored litigation against another pharmaceutical firm, AstraZeneca. That lawsuit was filed in March 2015. His spokesperson claimed the contract was entered prior to the new law taking effect. Among the regularly hired firms was Usry, Weeks & Mathews.
Together, Caldwell’s former campaign manager T. Allen Usry and his former campaign treasurer, E. Wade Shows, benefited from more than 30 separate, highly lucrative contracts with the attorney general’s office since 2008, according to research of campaign finance records conducted by Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. In addition, the New York Times reported that outside plaintiffs’ firms partnering with Caldwell made more than $54 million in legal fees since 2011.
Caldwell reportedly spent “$38.5 million on nearly a dozen law firms” he’d hired to negotiate a settlement with BP for damages inflicted on the state by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Critics again questioned the size of the payday relative to the amount of work performed.
In any case, expectations are running high for Caldwell’s successor, former Congressman Jeff Landry, who will move into the AG’s office in 2016. Landry has pledged to end Caldwell’s unethical, anti-growth, anti-jobs racket. But with an incoming governor committed to expanding civil liability on behalf of his wealthy trial lawyer backers, Louisiana’s unemployed and underemployed shouldn’t get their hopes up.