Tuesday, 01 April 2014 16:27

Louisiana legislature, Levee District vs. Oil and Gas; Jindal and LABI

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legis-labiOne of the major issues this Louisiana legislative session is and will be the lawsuit by a levee district against the major oil and gas industry companies.  Governor Jindal has been very vocal in his opposition to the lawsuit and has supported the idea of stopping the lawsuit through the legislative process during this spring's session.  


In part 2 of the Louisiana Roundup hangout webcast which took place recently, Bayoubuzz publisher Stephen Sabludowsky, former Louisiana government official and now radio talk show host and columnist Jim Brown and The Lens's Tyler Bridges discussed this issue.  Below is a transcript of the discussion.

(The transcription is a very accurate.  However, look at the video for the complete discussion but still look at the video for the most accurate discussion)

Sabludowsky: There's a lawsuit down in Southeast Louisiana with the levee district. Jim mentioned that the legislature has been trying to stop it. What is the likelihood that they will be able to stop it? 

Bridges: This is a topic that I have spent a fair amount of time working on the past week. I'm writing a lengthy profile of State Sen. Robert Adley. The reason I am writing this piece for The Lens is that Adley is the main driver within the legislature of the effort to kill the lawsuit filed by the levee district. I have talked about him with a lot of people, and I have spent time with him. He seems to be very capable. However, there are no votes taken to gauge whether or not this effort will proceed. Jim certainly knows the power of the industry within the legislature in Baton Rouge. 

Brown: I think it's unprecedented that the legislature would try to pass laws to stop an existing lawsuit. We got three branches of government, and we have a chance to get compensation before the court if we think the legislature has been wrong or there's been damage done. That's the tradition in this state and the rest of the country. I can't remember the legislature taking action to stop a legal action in the courts. The oil industry is very strong in this state. But I've seen some recent polls showing that the average voter is very much in favor of holding oil companies that do the damage responsible. There are good eggs and bad eggs. Some oil companies have been responsible and cleaned up after their damage. There are others who have not. There are some problems in the litigation because there might have been damage done thirty years ago; we can't find those people anymore. They've gone bankrupt. Cleaning up is very complicated issue. But I think it's unprecedented that the legislature would try to stop ongoing litigation whether it's fair or not. That's what the court should work out. I don't think it's a good political issue. I think this litigation is going to be a key issue in the sixth district congressional race. If you come out and say that you're for the oil companies, you don't have a shot of getting close in this election. It's a complicated issue. Let's go back to Robert Adley. I think he's a first-rate legislator, but he's very much involved in the oil business. He has become their boy. If they can do this this year, it doesn't mean that certain legislators who dislike ongoing litigation can try to wipe it out through legislation every year. That's a dangerous precedent. 

Sabludowsky: I'm very surprised that you said that the sixth district is opposed to the legislation. There are oil company establishments going up the river. Isn't that the sixth district? 

Brown: It is, but it's a question of looking at the damage done. You go down to Lafourche, LaPlace - all of those areas have had massive flooding, and I think that those people are convinced that part of the flooding is due to the various canals dug by oil companies. There's been no mitigation. You're right; the oil companies are very strong, but there are also a cross section of service groups and other types of groups there that are not part of the problem. It's a basic premise of our law system. If you injure or damage something or someone, you need to clean up the mess you made. I have seen some recent polls, and the vote is overwhelming against the oil companies in terms of their responsibility. It's going to be a strong issue.

Bridges: I want to ask Jim a question. You said that you thought that any candidate with the oil companies would not advance in the sixth congressional district. Garret Graves,who is the Chairman of the Governor's effort to rebuild the coast, has been one of the leading critics of the levee board lawsuit. Are you suggesting that he's not going to advance as a candidate? 

Brown: I think he has the albatross around his neck of being the guy who was supposed to be confecting the plan to clean up and deal with coastal problems. Now, he's suddenly on the other side of the issue. It's going to be a tough issue for him. What looked like a bright beginning for him may cause him problems down the line. He has to find a way to explain that to people who want solid, simple solutions. 

Sabludowsky: Let's talk about lawsuits. LABI is taking some big stands here. Their position on that lawsuit is that we have greedy attorneys. Greedy trial attorneys - that was Jindal's phrase. The other big issue for LABI is the jury trials. They want to reduce the threshold. However, back in the 1980s with Dan Juneau, they wanted to raise it because they thought they getting socked by so-called runaway juries. So I'm confused. 

Brown: I practiced as a lawyer for many years. If you are being sued and there's a jury trial, you can wear down the plaintiff. A jury trial takes a lot longer because the defendant can find all  kinds of reasons to cause delays. If the case goes before a judge, it's a simpler lawsuit that is over a lot quicker. You're right; LABI was all for the simplicity of the judge ruling on anything up to $50,000 unless both sides wanted a jury trial. Now, LABI has switched. My friend C.B. Forgotston said that their name is not LABI anymore; it's JABI - an extension of Gov. Jindal. I don't know if that' fair or not. 

Sabludowsky: I interviewed Stephen Waguespack when he took the job as President, and I have not seen one issue where he differs from the Governor. In fact, every time the Governor announces his stand on an issue, Waguespack writes about the same. The only thing that is a little wobbly is common core. LABI is strongly in favor of it. Jindal has been a little squishy concerning this matter because the conservatives have taken an issue with it. Other than that, I totally agree with Forgotston. It's a JABI. 

Bridges: I don't have an opinion one way or the other on that. But I would point out is that Stephen Waguespack works for the board of LABI. If he pulls the organization, which has been really powerful under Dan Juneau, too far, one would presume that the board would pull him in; unless the board wants him to go in that direction. 

Brown: I don't know of a governor that Dan Juneau didn't differ with on some key issues, including Bobby Jindal. Waguespack has not been there that long, and maybe that is going to change. However, right now it looks like JABI is a rubber stamp for Jindal's agenda. Unfortunately, that agenda doesn't seem to be set by Jindal. It's set by the second level of people around him because Jindal is not around. The confusion of who's in charge and what the agenda is is causing some real ups and downs in the legislature right now.

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