Add your voice to the conversation.
Louisiana’s liability exposure is a major concern to individuals, government, professionals and businesses, both large and small. We know for Louisiana’s economy to improve, it is necessary that its civil justice system improves. We will defend the meaningful reform made in 2020 and continue to fight to further improve Louisiana’s judicial system.
LABI Position: Oppose efforts by governmental entities to use litigation to harass businesses when engaged in lawful activities. Support legislation that curbs lawsuits by governmental entities, independently or with others, particularly entrepreneurial outside counsel, which exploit laws to punish businesses acting lawfully.
LABI Position: Support transparency, ethics and efficiency in the budgeting and operations of Louisiana’s courts. The principle of judicial independence as a separate branch of government is an important and historic American tenet, but independence and accountability can be promoted simultaneously. We should expect the same level of accountability and transparency within the judicial branch as we do from the executive and legislative arms of state government.
LABI Position: Support programs and legislation to foster judicial excellence, including, but not limited to, consolidating districts and court functions, modernizing our judgeships to reflect the current needs of the state and its population, and creating a centralized electronic filing system for court documents.
Abrogation of Contracts: Oppose legislation permitting abrogation of existing contracts.
Appeal Bond Caps: Support legislation setting reasonable limits on suspensive appeal bonds.
Asbestos Bankruptcy Transparency: Support legislation that would require plaintiffs to file with and disclose recovery from asbestos bankruptcy trusts to prevent double recoveries for the same injury and protect defendants’ rights.
Bifurcation of Trials: Support legislation to eliminate the requirement that all parties to a civil suit consent to the separate determination of liability and damages.
Multi-Party Litigation Reform: Support appropriate class action, mass joinder and multi-district litigation legislation.
Civil Justice Reform:Support legislation to improve the fairness and predictability of the civil justice system in Louisiana. Defend the reforms previously enacted to improve Louisiana laws with emphasis on Louisiana’s policy against awarding punitive damages unless authorized by statute, joint and several liability, as well as other reforms, including, but not limited to the limitations placed on products liability and strict liability actions, and the availability of motions for summary judgment. Reforms in the ‘90s were based on the premise that those at fault should only be held responsible for the harm they caused. Additionally, the retroactive application of liability against Louisiana entities and individuals is unacceptable, and directly contravenes the Louisiana Civil Code.
Contingency Fee: Oppose legislation that would authorize state and local governments to enter into contingency fee contracts or to employ outside counsel to be paid by the defendants or the state from the proceeds of awards and/or settlements. Support additional legislative oversight.
COVID-19 Liability Protection: Defend the 2020 legislation enacted to prevent liability exposure due to the pandemic.
Deceptive Drug Lawsuit Advertisements: Support legislation to help bring an end to misleading lawsuit advertisements run by plaintiffs’ lawyers and non-attorney advertising firms, seeking potential plaintiffs for lawsuits.
Direct Action: Support legislation to reform or repeal Louisiana’s unique direct-action statute which permits a plaintiff to sue an insurer for coverage directly and to outlaw presentation of evidence of liability insurance to the jury in a direct action.
Discovery: Support legislation limiting “fishing expeditions” for extraneous information in lawsuits and to ensure protections against abusive discovery, including electronic discovery.
Double Recovery: Support legislation to eliminate double recovery of damages and to defend 2020 reforms that brought down the excess cost of recoverable medical expenses as well as support further efforts to limit the recovery of medical expenses to the amount actually paid or to be paid.
Judicial Activism: Support legislation that will prohibit the judicial creation and/or recognition of a new cause of action for damages. Oppose legislation creating new causes of action in Louisiana.
Jury Trial Threshold: Support enhancing a citizen’s right to a civil jury trial by reducing or eliminating the current monetary threshold of $50,000, and support the requirement that all elements of an award, including attorney fees, penalties, costs and interest, be included in the existing, or any lower, judicial threshold.
Lawsuit Lending: Support legislation that would provide for reasonable consumer protections in consumer lawsuit loan transactions, including a limit on the maximum loan finance charges allowed in consumer lawsuit loan transactions. Oppose any legislation or other actions which would weaken such consumer protections.
Legacy Lawsuit Reform: Support legislation that sets forth appropriate damages in lawsuits related to oil field remediation.
Disclosure of Litigation Financing Arrangements: Support legislation that requires plaintiffs to disclose contractual arrangements with third-party financing companies in an effort to temper the trend in utilizing third-party financing companies to float a plaintiff’s medical and/or litigation-related expenses.
Offer of Judgment: Support legislation to encourage settlements within a reasonable range and to discourage plaintiffs from overvaluing their cases. Because of the wording of the Code of Civil Procedure article that deals with this subject, if the plaintiff does not win a “judgment” (in others words if the defendant wins) then the offer of judgment is not applicable. This language should be changed so that if the defendant is granted a favorable judgment after the offer of judgment is rejected, the defendant is entitled to costs and attorney’s fees.
Piercing the Corporate Veil: Support legislation that prohibits the application of the single business enterprise theory to extend liability beyond a separate entity.
Prescription: Oppose efforts to lengthen the time frame in which lawsuits can be filed. Support legislation to re-establish, expand and strengthen prescription and other traditional defenses.
Professional Liability: Support legislation to reform professional liability. Support health care provider and insurer efforts to refine and improve the medical professional liability system, while opposing judicial attempts and unilateral legislative attempts to remove or raise the medical malpractice cap.
Property and Casualty Insurance: Support measures that improve the availability and affordability of private insurance in a competitive market, and oppose measures that hinder the stability of a private insurance industry. Oppose any erosion to positive laws that have been enacted.
Product Liability: Support legislation that affords reasonable protection to manufacturers and sellers of legal products. Ensure that manufacturers are not unfairly exposed to liability for products they neither made nor sold.
Subsequent Purchaser: Oppose legislation which would create a right of action to assert claims for environmental damages that were caused or sustained prior to acquisition by a purchaser of the property.
Substance Exposure Liability: Support appropriate legislation that ensures that liability based on exposure to allegedly injurious or hazardous substances including, but not limited to, asbestos, mold and silica, is supported by reliable scientific evidence, and that monetary awards for exposure compensate only to the extent of injuries actually sustained. Support appropriate legislation that would establish medical criteria that separate the sick from those who are not and compensate only those who are sick. This legislation would guarantee those who are healthy their day in court if, and when, they become ill. Support legislation to require a plaintiff to provide information substantiating the claim against a specific defendant at the time of pleading.
Venue: Support legislation that sets forth appropriate venue rules in lawsuits, including class action, multi-party, and toxic tort cases.
Interpretation of Laws: Support efforts to clarify the standard of review of interpretive laws which seek to clarify legislative intent to preserve the separation of powers and support efforts to interpret existing law consistent with the legislative intent.
Contractual Transfer of Tort Liability: Educate LABI members about liability issues and insurance coverage problems associated with contractual transfer of tort liability. Study possible solutions to problems created by contractual transfer of tort liability.
Expert Testimony: Work with appropriate branches of government to resolve problems arising from the admissibility of certain opinion testimony by witnesses presented as experts, and support legislative efforts that require disclosure to the parties and fact finder of the medical experts’ historical rate of medical procedures recommended versus medical procedures actually performed.
Liability Insurance: Support legislation to reduce liability costs.
Personal Responsibility: Support legislation to encourage the use of safety devices by allowing introduction of evidence of their non-use/misuse to establish comparative fault.
Pre-judgment Interest: Support efforts to reform pre-judgment interest.
Tort Defense: Oppose legislation expanding exposure of individuals, professionals and businesses to new causes of action or unreasonable or excessive judicial awards.
Director, Civil Justice Reform Council, LABI
Chair, Civil Justice Reform Council
BREAZEALE, SACHSE & WILSON, L.L.P.
Haste makes waste, especially in legislating, so Gov. John Bel Edwards reasonably vetoed a major bill on car insurance that had been amended too quickly in its rush to approval in the regular session of the Legislature.
The veto of the so-called Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020 was not unexpected because of a last-minute and poorly worded addition to the complex and multi-faceted measure. The change mistakenly required some plaintiffs — those with modest injuries and their own medical insurance — to receive tens of thousands of dollars more than their injury cost to treat.
Because the Legislature is now in a special session until the end of the month, lawmakers might address the problem in the original bill by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, by passing a “clean” version.
However, Edwards, a close ally of trial lawyers politically, stated in his veto message that he’s still not a fan of the bill, which he called “neither a compromise nor is it a mandate to decrease rates.”
This is a complex measure, but it at least has the virtue of its provisions having been extensively debated last year. It was derailed in a Senate committee then, after a large majority voted for it in the House.
The bill included technical changes about how civil lawsuits are filed and how courts operate, including more time for lawsuits to be filed. The bill would also lower the amount of damages sought in order to have the case heard by jury instead of a judge from $50,000 to $5,000 for most personal injury cases, called jury threshold; limit medical expenses recovered to the actual payments made, rather than what a health care provider charges, called collateral source; require lawsuits to be filed against the other driver, rather than the insurance company, called direct action; and allow judges and juries to know if the injured plaintiff was not wearing a safety belt.
All this, according to the theory of business supporters, would lower the court costs facing insurers, and thus lead to reductions in car insurance premiums in Louisiana, second only to Michigan in the nation.
The governor says the changes should be accompanied by a mandate for reducing costs, but that was not included in the bill, and probably won’t be during the special session.
While the politics may look dicey for the bill again this year, we believe many of these changes are sensible and reflect the law in other states. There is no single legislative solution to the problem of high insurance rates, but something like the Talbot bill can be part of a long-term fix.
In parts one and two of the KTBS three-part series on tort reform in Louisiana, the goal was to define the problem and examine some of those who may shoulder the blame for the state’s high auto insurance rates.
In this third installment the goal is to concentrate on those involved in writing the laws that’ll push insurance rates lower.
Most lawmakers agree something needs to be done, but there is disagreement on exactly what that is. There's enthusiasm and dissent.
“There is tremendous momentum to do something about Louisiana’s auto insurance rates,” said state Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport).
“The effort, as I understand it, is to promote tort reform specifically to address auto insurance rates,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
“Lowering the insurance rates for our citizens and our businesses, like loggers, truck drivers, is paramount,” said state Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Bossier City).
Getting Louisiana’s auto insurance rates down seems to be the number one topic in the new legislative session. Now, it’s up to lawmakers and the governor to get it done. The problem is nobody can seem to agree on exactly how to do that.
“Tort reform is probably the least defined issue of the session that lawmakers just can’t stop talking about,” political analyst Jeremy Alford said.
Tort reform was killed in the Senate Judiciary A Committee a year ago.
“But we have a very different upper chamber this term, and I would imagine something, in some form, is going to make it through the process,” Alford said.
But wading through that process could be tough.
“We need to know more from the insurance industry side and their practices,” said state Rep. Sam Jenkins (D-Shreveport). “Are they making insurance less affordable? Do they have some practices making the number of people that can be insured, reduced?”
Jenkins does not believe the insurance companies have been transparent.
“I’m hoping, as we head into the session and we begin to hear bills about tort reform, the experts on this subject matter will come forward and be able to give some testimony to the committees, and truthfully answer some questions about why insurance rates in Louisiana are so high,” Jenkins said.
And those rates are taking a big bite out of Louisiana pocketbooks.
“We have the second highest auto rates of the 50 states, second only to Michigan,” said Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. “We’re No. 1 in America in cost of auto insurance; we’re No. 49 in America in per capita income.”
“We are, far and away number one in unaffordability. In other words, if you look at the average income in Louisiana versus what the premium is, we are by far the most unaffordable rates in the country,” said state Sen. Kirk Talbot.
Clearly, something needs to change.
“It’s our laws that must be amended,” said Horton. “I do believe it’s a bi-partisan issue.”
But Jenkins, officially voted in as the chairman of the Democratic Caucus in Baton Rouge just recently, is skeptical about newly proposed tort reform legislation. For example, Jenkins believes lowering the jury threshold will lead to more overcrowding of the judicial system.
He does not believe the much-maligned billboard attorneys drive insurance rates higher, adding that he sees as many insurance commercials as attorney commercials.
And Jenkins believes barriers need to be removed, barriers that are keeping the pool of insureds at a lower level, barriers like marital or military status.
“There’s nothing in HB9 that really requires the insurance industry to come forward and make proactive moves to try to reduce insurance rates,” Jenkins said.
And Jenkins says a balance needs to be found so insurance rates can be more affordable, more people can be insured, and claims have merit.
“Until we get to that point,” said Jenkins, “I think you are going to have two sides pointing the finger at one another, saying 'You are the reasons insurance rates are so high in Louisiana.’”
But there does seem to be desire and hope.
“I do think there’s common ground, based on bills that were introduced last year that were unsuccessful there are some portions of those bills, I think, that can be agreed to and that we can probably move forward with,” the governor said.
“The goal is not to pass a bill so we can pat ourselves on the back and feel good. The goal is to pass a bill that actually lowers Louisiana auto insurance rates,” Seabaugh said.
“I do not think HB9 really addresses the problem,” said Jenkins. “I honestly do not.”
And Jenkins had a further word of caution: “I doubt if you’re going to get a resolution this session.”
That’s not good news for people like insurance commissioner Donelon, who is convinced tort reform will happen this session.
And that includes Stephen Waguespack, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry executive director.
“If it doesn’t pass this year, we will bring it the next year, and the next year, and the next year, and the next year,” said Waguespack. “And every year until we get it done. Because I cannot look those farmers, truckers, loggers and small businesses — I cannot look them in the eye anymore and say we’ve given up.”
Alford said from all indications, tort reform will move quickly through the legislature. The reason: if lawmakers send a bill to the governor and he veto’s it, there will be enough time to address an override without going into a special session.
By: Stephen Waguespack
Math doesn’t lie. Neither does the black and white letter of the law. And now, we know with certainty, that the math and statutory language included in the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act (SB 418) by Sen. Kirk Talbot shows the bill will reduce auto insurance rates. All we need now is for the Legislature to pass it and the Governor to sign it as soon as possible. That can happen if people across the state reach out to lawmakers and make your voice heard.
A handful of vocal opponents from the personal injury attorney community will continue to throw mud and deceptive tactics at the bill, but now those few voices have a problem: the bill is crystal clear in its application, the demand for reform across Louisiana is deafening and legislators are finally paying attention to a problem that has long needed attention.
Even if those opponents find a way to kill this bill, it will just come back ten times over, every year if that is what it takes, until it is passed. If they find a way to gut it and rip out the substantive provisions that will lead to an improved legal climate and lower rates for everyone, the frustration that will ensue after the fact will elevate demand for a true reform fix even more.
This is what happens when a crisis point is hit, and that is where we are as a state with our legal system’s harmful impact on insurance access and affordability.
Commercial insurers are leaving the market to flee predatory lawsuits and those remaining are forced to raise rates. If you don’t believe that is true, ask any farmer, trucker, logger or small business delivery service operator you know. They will tell you some tragic stories of how hard it is to keep their family business afloat and their employees working.
Louisiana has the second highest insurance rates in the nation. Everyone understands this is largely driven by a toxic legal climate in a Louisiana that has grown addicted to lawsuits and settlement checks, and has for too long been protected in the State Capitol by bad laws on the books. The advertising is out of control, but it sure must be working, because a handful of trial lawyers are now building call centers in Louisiana to search for plaintiffs any way they can to keep the money flowing. This trend of escalating lawsuits will only continue unless something is done. Insurance rates paid by all of us will keep rising and our legal climate won’t improve until the laws are changed in our Capitol.
None of this is normal in other states and this was never how our founding fathers designed our legal system to function.
Thirty-five of the 55 delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention who created the document that inspires our nation’s ideals, principles and liberties were lawyers. They worked hard to ensure that a just system was put in place in America so all would be treated fairly. They believed in ensuring people could defend themselves in front of a jury of their peers. They believed in the notion that the truth should set someone free and that people are innocent until proven guilty.
In Louisiana today, we make it more difficult than any other state to get a jury in an auto accident case. Louisiana has other laws on the books restricting the amount of evidence you can bring to trial to defend yourself. It is drastically harder to earn a jury of your peers and present all the evidence than any other state in the country. These laws violate the spirit of what our founding fathers stood for and have helped to damage a healthy, competitive insurance market in our state.
Do we really think the great legal minds of our nation’s founding, people like Alexander Hamilton, would look on our current system with pride? Ok, maybe you’re not a history buff, then ask yourself if inspiring fictional legal figures like Atticus Finch, Jack McCoy or Perry Mason would like what they see in Louisiana today?
I am very proud to be an attorney and I think the legal profession is one of the most noble careers available. I know countless attorneys and judges who work tirelessly each day for honorable and inspiring purposes. Many are charitable community leaders who deserve appreciation for their efforts. But there are a handful of actors in our legal profession who are now impacting the trust the general public has in all of us. It’s tough to acknowledge and talk about, but we all know it to be true.
The time is now to pass SB 418, restore that trust and bring this all back into balance.
SB 418 by Senator Kirk Talbot is once again the must-pass bill of the legislative session this year, just as it was last year. The math and language show it will lower insurance rates for everyone and that is desperately needed. Almost as important, this bill will help bring our legal system back into balance… a legal system that more accurately resembles the inspiring notions, principles and figures of the past, and more accurately resembles the large number of inspiring legal professionals of today who have for too long had their noble work overshadowed by an aggressive, charismatic few who are experts in marketing.
To join the cause, learn more or to make your voice heard, text “FIXITNOW” to 66866. We can’t afford to wait.
Part one of the KTBS three-part series on tort reform attempted to define the problem. Simply put, car insurance rates are too high, or in some cases, unavailable.
In part two, the reasons for that are in the spotlight. There are a lot of opinions, but one almost everybody wants to discuss — all those billboard attorneys filling billboards along the highways.
COMMERCIAL: “Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Like when I was in that car accident. I didn’t know what to do. The insurance company was messing with my mind, so I called Morris Bart.”
Some experts say too many people are calling Morris Bart, or other billboard attorneys and that’s one reason auto insurance rates in Louisiana are through the roof.
“Right now, individual rights are being trampled and manipulated, all so hat a few aggressive attorney’s can get wealthy, while the rest of us pay the bills through high insurance rates,” said Stephen Waguespack, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry president.
COMMERCIAL: “You know what to do, call 525-8000 right now or get 24 hour service at getbart.com.”
Not everyone agrees billboard attorneys should be blamed for high insurance rates, including of course, Morris Bart.
“We take one side, which is representing injured people,” said Bart. “Other lawyers take the other side, which is representing insurance companies. And in the public’s mind this is just a great inconvenience to them.”
An inconvenience that manifests in one way.
“It makes sense they are going to vilify the lawyers for creating the complicated process they have to deal with,” said Bart.
COMMERCIAL: “I made that one call on a Saturday and just like that Morris Bart got me $270,000.”
But here’s a surprise from Louisiana’s insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon: “Frankly, those television ads that have clients saying, ‘Morris Bart got me $500,000,' or 'John Doe got me $300,000;' those cases are not the problem.”
Then, what is?
“The minor accidents with $15,000 checks being handed out just to get those claims resolved because to litigate it costs more than the $15,000,” Donelon said.
“And these settlement checks just flow out of courtrooms every single day in Louisiana,” said Waguespack. “And it raises rates for all of us.”
So, is tort reform the answer? Not according to Bart.
“What I have been told is the insurance industry has looked at every tort reform measure being proposed in Louisiana, and they have flatly said none of these measures are going to reduce rates,” Bart said.
And Bart has supporters, including Eric Holl of Real Reform Louisiana, a group calling for real insurance reform.
“Tort reform won‘t lower insurance rates,” Holl said.
Instead, Holl said it will just make insurance companies more money, adding the reason Louisiana’s auto insurance rates are high.
“Isn’t because of our tort laws. It’s because of the insurance companies who are using things like secret penalties based on your gender, or your status ass a returning military veteran, or your marital status, your education, your credit score; things that absolutely nothing to do with your driving record,” Holl said.
And while he agrees insurance rates need to come down, state Rep. Sam Jenkins, of Shreveport, who chairs the Democratic Caucus in Baton Rouge, seems to lean toward Holl’s arguments.
“I’m very concerned what’s being proposed by way of a bill is more penalizing the consumer and doing very little to really take a look at the insurance industry and their practices, and trying to determine if some of that may be the reasons their rates are so high,” Jenkins said.
COMMERCIAL: (Women almost hit by car) “If I’d gotten hit by that car, I’d call Morris Bart.”
And Jenkins’ opinion extends to billboard attorneys.
“I think we are making a big mistake,” said Jenkins. “True tort reform deals with subjects other than lawyers, commercials, lawsuits that have been filed,people making claims.”
Waguespack believes that for decades Louisianans have been used as pawns in a big game — and now: “The game is up, the gig has to stop.”
But until then: (COMMERCIAL) “One call, that’s all.”
There does seem to be a lot of enthusiasm behind the idea of tort reform and lower auto rates in the legislature.
“I believe the fight is not going to be whether we’re going to pass auto insurance reform. It’s what we’re going to pass and what it’s going to look like,” state Rep. Alan Seabaugh said.
If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times — “My car insurance rates are killing me.”
That's a prevailing sentiment throughout Louisiana and appears to be the No. 1 topic on the minds of lawmakers heading into this legislative session that started Monday.
This is the first in a three-part series on tort reform, which is thought to be the key in getting auto insurance rates lowered. Part one defines the program and features drivers struggling to pay high premiums.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is one of the strongest proponents of tort reform in the state
“This auto insurance, vehicle insurance crisis— is literally burning out of control, right now,” said Stephen Waguespack, LABI president.
In a nutshell, that sums up the problem surrounding tort reform in Louisiana — unlivable auto insurance rates.
Numbers show Louisiana's car insurance is 58 percent higher than the national average, with an average premium of about $2,300 per vehicle which is the second highest in the nation.
“When we pay the second highest auto insurance rates in the country, it's not by accident. It's not because we're the only state that has texting and driving … or bad roads. It's because we have a flawed legal climate that's been broken for decades,” Waguespack said.
“I think we've done that through legislation and creating a system that's been labeled a judicial hellhole in this country,” said sate Rep. Thomas Pressly (R-Shreveport).
When it's all said and done LABI concludes tort lawsuits cost every household in Louisiana more than $4,000 a year. And the upcoming legislative session is the time to set things right with the state’s legal climate…
“It absolutely beyond any doubt will lower the cost of auto insurance in Louisiana,” said state insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
So what needs fixing if you're involved in a wreck?
“This is how the game works,” Waguespack said. “First of all they're going to bring you in front of the judge they want because we have loose venue shopping rules here. We’ve got to get rid of that.”
Louisiana has a high jury trial threshold.
“The highest jury trial threshold other than Louisiana, which is $50,000, is Maryland, which is $15,000,” said Pressly.
Waguespack explains what that means is “the law has set the rules against you. They make it hard for you to bring in a jury in court.”
“There's no question about it— the most important is the jury threshold,” Donelon said.
But there are several more things — most agree — need to be addressed.
“You can't talk about whether insurance paid the bills. You can't talk about whether a seat belt was used. That's all put in place by the trial lawyers over the years to make it harder for you to have the case you want, the evidence you want, in front of the jury you want,” Waguespack said.
“We have a one-year prescriptive period. Most states have a higher prescriptive period, meaning they have longer to decide to sue,” Pressly said. “In Louisiana we have a collateral source rule.”
Which in a lawsuit means plaintiffs can virtually double dip.
“Now, the jury doesn't even get to see or the judge what is actually paid. All they see is what is billed so it inflates costs, which can cause premiums to go up,” said state Sen. Kirk Talbot (R-Metairie).
Last year, as a state representative, Talbot sponsored House Bill 372 calling for tort reform. It got shot down in a Senate Judiciary Committee, which featured former legislators Ryan Gatti and John Milkovich.
“Those of you in the Shreveport area saw it cost two of your state senators their seats as a result of their opposition to tort reform,” Donelon said.
Talbot's in the Senate for this new session and still going after tort reform in House Bill 9. There's one more main area he's targeting.
“Direct action. We're one of only three states where you name the insurance company in the lawsuit. We want to take that back,” Talbot said.
Cleveland Auzene is the owner of Auzene Transportation, established in 2016 in Shreveport. Auzene provided critical medical transportation for isolated, elderly patients. He had to stop operations because his auto insurance rates were too high.
“The people of state want this issue fixed — and we’ve got to fix it this year,” Waguespack said.
Louisiana's loggers and truckers have been hit hard and certainly agree.
“Over the past two to three years we have seen our insurance premiums double, triple,” said Timberland Services owner Chad Still. “Three years ago an average premium for a logging truck was $5-6,000. Now its anywhere from $9-10,000. For new businesses it’s $20-25,000.”
Still and his business partner, Jody Woodard, see the problem from a unique perspective. In addition to logging and trucking, they own Pace Insurance Managers, and say at best there are four companies that will write logging trucks in Louisiana and the rates are unaffordable.
“We have talked to people across the nation, across the South, that write in Texas and Arkansas and Mississippi and begged them to come in and do a pilot program. When you say Louisiana they basically laugh in your face (and) say, ‘We're not coming to Louisiana,’” said Woodard, Pace Insurance Managers president.
Donelon said his task as commissioner is to make insurance affordable and available.
And that is certainly not an easy task.
Now that the problem has been defined, in part two of the series KTBS will look at some people who've become popular and easy scapegoats for tort reform: Louisiana's billboard attorneys.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry will be targeting lawsuit reform in an effort to reduce car insurance rates across the state, LABI's head emphasized.
Stephen Waguespack, LABI's president and CEO, addressed One Acadiana members at The Picard Center, where he explained his organization's gameplan for the next legislative session. It was Waguespack's second such speech in Acadiana this week, having spoke to real estate groups earlier.
Waguespack said lawsuit reform — such as eliminating or altering the state's jury threshold and gag orders — will be the priority for the session, as the number of new legislators who “haven't been brainwashed yet by the capital” gives them the “best chance” of passing it.
“If we pass this bill, all we're going to do is look like the rest of the country,” Waguespack said. “This isn't radical stuff.”
Waguespack said “time will tell” if Gov. John Bel Edwards would sign or veto a lawsuit reform bill. Edwards has indicated he's willing to work on lawsuit reform, but has not announced any specific measures he would support.
Republicans in the Louisiana Senate could override the veto, but the Republican majority in the House falls just shy of the two-thirds necessary for an override.
“I'm hoping that he will let this process play out and make his decision at the end,” Waguespack said. “I think if he's forced to sign it right now, he's not going to want to do it.”
A bill passed the House last session, but it died in a Senate committee. Waguespack said the Senate committee was “designed to kill bills just like this.” But he said newly elected Senate President Page Cortez, an Acadiana Republican, created fairer committees.
Following Waguespack's presentation, One Acadiana President and CEO Troy Wayman joined him for a question-and-answer session with members. During the session, the two spoke in favor of charter schools and criticized the state's attitude toward the oil and gas industry.
Waguespack criticized some of the state's actions toward the oil and gas industry, such as the coastal lawsuits, arguing that other industries may be deterred. He said the oil and gas companies were among some of the biggest investors of coastal protection and restoration efforts, but the state has been hostile toward them.
Wayman echoed these concerns.
“Other companies that are… considering our state for a location, they look at those things and say, 'You know, oil and gas is kind of the goose that laid the golden egg for the state of Louisiana, and they're kicking them in the shins. What are they going to do to me if I move there?'” Wayman said.
Both Waguespack and Wayman said they supported the state's charter school program, praising the ability to hold leaders accountable and to pull their charter for not meeting goals.
“We think that competition is going to help improve the product,” Waguespack said.
“I couldn't agree more,” Wayman said. “Basically we're bringing capitalism into the school system.
“If you're not producing a product that we all use and need, then you're going to go out of business.”
Stephen Waguespack on Thursday set before One Acadiana his organization’s game plan for seizing the moment for business interests during the 2020 legislative session, which opens March 9 and ends June 1.
Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, said the organization was actively involved in recruiting and coaching legislative candidates during the 2019 elections. It endorsed 18 of 39 senators, 46 of 105 House members. The harvest, he said, was a strengthened political foothold — not necessarily veto proof, but stronger — that made the changeover of both legislative chambers “historic.”
LABI’s aggressive political efforts reflected a need based on economic signposts that suggest a troubled Louisiana economy and more peril ahead. For example, he said, the state’s job growth is “anemic” compared to growth in neighboring states and its unemployment rate of 4.9 percent outpaces that of other nearby states.
Louisianians are fleeing the state — 50,000 have left since July 2016, he said — especially damaging to the state long term.
“Our seed corn is leaving to go to other states,” he said. “Every time we lose a person, it’s hard to bring them back.”
Waguespack said LABI has specific plans as Louisiana opens the legislative quadrennium. This year, he said, the organization will focus on improving the state’s legal climate. He said tort reform is needed to improve not only the energy industry’s outlook but the future of other employers, as well.
Farmers, truckers and grocers are facing new challenges because of the legal climate, he said. Tort reform, he said, would help large industries and mom-and-pop businesses alike.
Waguespack said Louisiana ranks among the worst states for the number of lawsuits and among the top five states for tort costs as a share of the state’s economy. He said Louisiana’s “poor civil justice system” has an impact of about $4,000 per household, according to a study LABI funded.
Car insurance, he said, is 58 percent above the national average.
“We have three times more lawsuits than Alabama,” he said, a state that in the 1990s was known for lawsuit abuse.
Waguespack said few companies will write commercial vehicle insurance policies in Louisiana, especially difficult for trucking companies, ambulance companies and others that are vehicle intensive.
He said among the problems LABI perceives is that bodily injury claims are filed more frequently here. It’s tougher for defendants to get jury trials — the threshold is $50,000 — plaintiffs can “judge shop” and judges are not made to be transparent.
“You deserve to know who judges are in business with,” he said. All of those are issues he said LABI will pursue in legislative efforts this year.
Waguespack also said litigation over coastal erosion has caused some oil and gas producers to shy away from Louisiana.
He said State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, will make sure conservatives will hold key leadership positions to protect business and industry. To Acadiana's advantage, he said, is that State Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, holds the chairmanship of the House Ways & Means committee.
Joe Zanco, executive vice president and CFO for HomeBank, said he hopes lawmakers and the governor can agree on policies that will encourage more jobs, especially those that encourage Louisianians who’ve left the state to return.
Carol Trosclair of Carol Trosclair Inc., a landman and business consultant, said bringing jobs back to Louisiana is especially important.
Waguespack's visit to One Acadiana is one of several he'll make statewide before the legislative session opens.
Louisiana's largest business group will push for lawsuit reform and lower car insurance rates during this year's legislative session, said Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
Waguespack believes the high number of new lawmakers in the Legislature makes this legislative session one of the best opportunities to promote lawsuit reform, he told the Acadian Home Builders Association, the Realtor Association of Acadiana, and the Acadiana Mortgage Lenders Association.
“Across the state, you've got a whole lot of other people who are coming in with new ideas,” Waguespack said. “They're going to that capitol as change agents.”
Waguespack touched on the state's slow rate of economic growth, even as the country experiences a boom. He said lawsuit reform — and the way it relates to Louisiana's high car insurance rates — could be a way to encourage more businesses to move into the area and would lift a burden off its existing businesses and residents.
Specifically, Waguespack addressed the state's high requirement for a jury in lawsuits and gag orders — limits on what can be said and introduced in the course of the lawsuit. In Louisiana, the damages sought must exceed $50,000 for the defendant to request a jury.
These laws, Waguespack said, lead to a lot of settlements, which results in higher car insurance rates across the state. Car insurance rates were a talking point during the 2019 gubernatorial race, as President Donald Trump criticized the state's high rates.
“We'll be bringing bills this year to try to change all that,” Waguespack said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who spoke during LABI's annual meeting, said he will seek common ground on legal reform legislation. But Edwards has not said what specific measures he will support or oppose.
Some Democratic lawmakers and a new political action committee, Real Reform Louisiana, have argued the bills LABI supports won't lower car insurance and would help industry and car insurance companies.
LABI outlines several other priorities for the legislative session in its Program of Work, including workforce development and early childhood education. On Thursday, Waguespack will be speaking at a luncheon with One Acadiana.
If their recent comments are accurate, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, both Republicans, believe they can communicate and compromise in order to make some long-sought changes in Louisiana state government.
Cortez said, “Clay and I have a similar appreciation for teamwork and for working together. He and I constantly talked about working with the governor. And I’m going to tell you that if we work together and we don’t work with the governor, then it’s going to be fatal, the state won’t move forward.”
Some GOP lawmakers known as the Gang of No were at odds with Edwards during much of his first term, and many of them are back again. They have always been quick to label any who cooperate with Edwards as RINOs (Republicans in name only). They did it again when 23 GOP House members voted for Schexnayder as speaker.
The 45 Republicans who wanted Rep. Sherman Mack of Albany as speaker hold the key as to whether communication and compromise with Edwards will be possible. LaPolitics Weekly, in a wide-ranging interview, asked Schexnayder about those 45 members.
“… I can tell you just about all of the 45 have come and sat down with me and told me they’re ready to get to work,” Schexnayder said. “They’ve pledged to work as one body, and I’ve pledged to be what I have always been, which is a team player.”
Sounds good, but Schexnayder did say “just about all of the 45.” Who the others are will have a lot to say about whether compromise is possible.
Edwards knows the odds are stacked against him this term. Republicans hold 27 seats in the 39-member Senate, one more than the two-thirds needed to override a governor’s veto. There are 68 Republicans in the House, two short of its two-thirds majority.
Former Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who was termlimited and retired after 48 years in the Legislature, was a close ally of Edwards. He appointed Democrats to some key committees and they derailed a number of House-passed bills. Republicans now control those key Senate committees.
Tort reform is the No. 1 goal of Republicans and the state’s business groups. Tort reform is described as proposed changes to the civil justice system that aim to reduce the ability of accident and other victims to file lawsuits or reduce the monetary damages they can receive.
Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, was in Lake Charles last week and said fixing the state’s legal system is one of the top priorities in the legislative session beginning March 9. He said agriculture, timber, logging and trucking interests can’t get commercial vehicle insurance in this state that is affordable.
Attorneys who file those suits are often referred to as “trial lawyers.” They are closely allied with Edwards and insist there is no proof that the changes Waguespack and others want to make would lower vehicle insurance rates. Critics of tort reform say attacking lawsuits ignores other reasons like distracted and drunken driving that cause high insurance premiums.
Edwards did say he is willing to discuss and negotiate the issue with legislators and supports doubling the time people have to file a lawsuit, which would lead to fewer claims being filed.
Cortez said, “If we really want to legislate appropriately, we want to get a bill that effects change and that the governor will sign. Because if we put ourselves in a position with all these bills where we have to override the veto, that’s not a good posture to put yourself in. Again, we have to work together to move forward.”
Although the Senate has the veto numbers (two-thirds) and the House is close, getting all of the Republicans to override a veto is still a difficult hurdle to climb.
Cortez wants to pass bills Edwards will sign, but he added, “Now, the flip side of that is if the Legislature has a mandate that we’re passing this bill out, I don’t think it makes good sense on his (Edwards) part to veto something that comes out with almost unanimous consent.”
Schexnayder told LaPolitics Weekly that infrastructure (roads, bridges, ports and airports) is another major issue. Finding the money to do much of that work is going to be difficult because getting two-thirds of the Legislature to raise new revenues in 2021 seems unlikely at this point.
Public school teachers are unhappy Edwards didn’t include another pay increase in his proposed budget. And Republicans are expected to continue their attacks on Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for poor and low-income Americans.
Whether Edwards, Cortez and Schexnayder can come together to solve some of this state’s major problems remains to be seen. We can only hope that is finally possible, but the road ahead will still be rocky.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the state budget would be the biggest issue facing the Louisiana Legislature that begins in one month on March 9.
A sharply divided Louisiana House and state Senate likely would focus on how state government funds education — from expanding services for early childhood to more money for colleges, he said.
Republican legislative leaders drew a line with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards by refusing to go along with predictions that more money is available for spending next year. But in the end, who is against increasing accessibility to day care with an educational component?
No, the sharp partisan lines will be drawn over “tort reform” and that donnybrook will happen early in the session.
Even Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bodi White, R-Central, conceded that GOP members were far more interested in talking about tort reform at a Republican retreat last week.
“I look for a number of members to shoot that out of the cannon right off,” White said.
A cannon is an apt metaphor.
Tort reform, that is, passing laws that restrict an individual’s ability to sue businesses and insurance companies, has always been a vicious fight. This year fisticuffs will be more intense as Republican majorities in the House and Senate flex their muscles against a Democratic governor who has been backed by lawyers who represent victims.
The strategy, several Republicans and lobbyists say confidentially, is to put a bill on Edwards’ desk early enough in the session that lawmakers don’t have to reconvene to override a veto, should that be the governor’s choice.
The Senate would need 26 votes to override and has 27 Republicans. The House would need 70 votes and has 68 Republicans.
Overrides are rare.
In 1991, the Legislature overrode then-Gov. Buddy Roemer’s veto of the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bill. And in 1993, the Legislature overrode a veto by then-Gov. Edwin W. Edwards that restored $3 million to the Attorney General’s budget.
But that’s it as far as legislative overrides go — all the way back to 1921. (Before then, the records are incomplete.)
Insurance companies have signed up 48 lobbyists for the upcoming session, according to the Board of Ethics disclosures. The Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, the powerful Baton Rouge group that poured money in the campaigns of many of the winning legislators in last fall’s campaigns, as well as the Pelican Institute conservative think tank in New Orleans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocate for tort reform. Plus, conservative bloggers and radio talk shows have been flogging the idea that the high prices for auto insurance is a result of greedy people and greedier lawyers.
On the other side, a new group formed, called “Real Reform Louisiana,” and led by Eric Holl, the communications director for Edwards’ campaign, said last week: “Tort reform won’t lower car insurance rates, but it will make it easier for insurance companies and big corporations to avoid compensating legitimate victims of negligence.”
Of the 48 bills already filed for consideration, House Bill 9 is pretty much identical to an unsuccessful measure last year. House Bill 46 would expedite civil jury trials, which addresses one of the complaints by judges who say that lowering the jury threshold would slow resolution because criminal jury trials take precedence.
Among the 27 pre-filed Senate bills is Senate Bill 12, which would allow juries to hear if the victim was wearing a seat belt. Four others seek to prohibit insurance companies from considering nondriving factors — such as age and credit worthiness — when setting rates.
The main effort will be the legislation soon-to-be filed by state Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge. He argues that Louisiana’s first step toward lower auto insurance rates is to align the way trials seeking monetary damages are handled with what the rest of the country does.
As a state representative last year, Talbot’s Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2019 cleared the House but was rejected in Senate Judiciary A committee on arguments that the changes wouldn’t result in lower prices for auto insurance.
The primary components of Talbot’s bill are: Decreasing the jury threshold from $50,000 to $5,000, which would send more trials to juries, rather than judges; extending the time to file a lawsuit from one year to two, which would give the parties more time to settle a dispute; eliminating the “collateral source” rule, which would limit what plaintiffs could collect from insurance companies for injuries; and requiring the defendant driver be sued by name instead of his insurer, who ultimately will pay.
Now a state senator, Talbot said he is tweaking last year’s version.
“It will create a more competitive climate and strengthen the argument that the bill will lower rates,” Talbot said last week. He’s hopeful that a veto override is unnecessary, pointing out how much support tort reform has.
“Clearly people want something done,” Talbot said.
The leaders behind a new self-proclaimed “nonpartisan nonprofit” advocating for insurance reform—notably not the Republican-pushed tort reform bill—all have strong ties to the Democratic Party.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ former campaign communications director Eric Holl has been tapped to lead the new nonprofit, Real Reform Louisiana, to advocate for “lower car insurance rates and stop corporate court-rigging,” the organization announced today. Holl is a native of the Washinton, D.C., area and an LSU graduate. He has also worked as a campaign communications director for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
In addition to Holl, the group’s leaders include Milton “Trey” Ourso, who’s listed as president on the group’s business filing with the Secretary of State’s office, and treasurer Kate Magsamen.
Ourso is the former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party and is also behind Gumbo PAC, the Democratic super PAC that supports Edwards.
The organization’s domicile address is listed as 352 Napoleon Street in Baton Rouge, the same address as Ourso’s political consulting firm. Holl didn’t respond to a question seeking confirmation of Ourso’s link to Gumbo PAC.
Magsamen has been involved in Democratic politics for 15 years and has held finance roles in campaigns for former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Senator Mary Landrieu and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, according to her biography on Emerge Louisiana’s website, where she also serves as a co-founder and advisory council member.
“Business groups and insurance companies have gone largely unchallenged as they spend untold millions to push a false narrative about tort reform,” Holl says in the announcement. “Tort reform won’t lower car insurance rates, but it will make it easier for insurance companies and big corporations to avoid compensating legitimate victims of negligence.”
In later comments, Holl tells Daily Report “this isn’t a partisan issue.”
Republican legislative leaders have said enacting their version of tort reform—the Omnibus bill—is a top priority for the 2020 session. Critics say the bill package would not actually lower insurance rates.
LABI President Stephen Waguespack—one of the leading proponents of tort reform—pushed back against the new group and its claims.
“This new group has no credibility whatsoever. In fact, it is just the latest in a long line of glossed up, smear campaigns created to convince the working people of this state to just keep paying up so that a handful of big trial lawyers can keep their big gravy train rolling,” Waguespack tells Daily Report today via text. “It is embarrassing what they are doing, it is hurting many families and small businesses across Louisiana and it is time to take a stand.”
The organization says it plans to advocate for:
The organization boasts a range of Republican, Democrat and independent supporters—though none is listed on the organization’s website and Holl didn’t name any specific supporters when asked.
Just two days ago, Holl tweeted from his personal Twitter account that he had been blocked by the Louisiana Republican Party. When asked about it via a message on Twitter, Holl said: “I don’t know why I was blocked by the LAGOP, which is why the tone of my tweet was comical. I have friends in Louisiana who represent elected officials and organizations across the political spectrum. I’ve worked with Republican officials on many occasions.”
The organization says it is a designated 501(c)(4) social welfare organization.
Stephen Waguespack from LABI joined us to talk about the large turnover in the legislative seats. He breaks down all the new legislative members and who might be the next state Speaker of the House. Stephen also discusses the comments of The Advocate’s Mark Ballard who said, “Tort changes in Louisiana will be a popular topic but won’t help lower auto insurance rates.” Stephen says that is not even close to being true and he breaks down all the work the new legislative leaders are doing to get some tort reform.
A national group that advocates for civil defendants has once again labeled Louisiana a “judicial hellhole.”
Louisiana is ranked fourth on a list of ten “hellholes.” The list, released annually, is subjective and unscientific and is meant to draw attention to various jurisdictions and governmental entities that the American Tort Reform Association believes are “radically out of balance” in favor of civil plaintiffs.
“Our purpose is to raise issues, encourage discussion and encourage debate,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said after the release of last year’s list. “We know that not everybody agrees with us, but we think the matters that we raise are important.”
In its new commentary, ATRA cites “the costly combination of former plaintiffs’ attorney and current Governor John Bel Edwards’ (D) aggressive litigation agenda, the plaintiff-friendly legislature, and inescapable advertising practices by the plaintiffs’ bar.” Louisiana also was named a “hellhole” before Edwards was elected.
The group criticizes litigation brought by the Edwards administration, Attorney General Jeff Landry and local governments seeking damages from pharmaceutical companies for their alleged roles in the opioid crisis. Attorneys are working on a contingency-fee basis, ATRA says, so “their incentive is to maximize their fees irrespective of the public interest.”
ATRA also mentions the failure in the Louisiana Legislature of this year’s “omnibus premium reduction act,” which the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the state’s top business lobby, considered the session’s top priority. Supporters said the bill might have led to lower auto insurance rates, though they conceded there was no guarantee it would be effective in that regard and there was nothing in the bill that mandated lower rates.
Baton Rouge attorney Bob Kleinpeter responded to last year’s list on behalf of the Louisiana Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers. He said Louisiana’s judicial system is “one of the finest anywhere in the world” and called the report an “outrageous and offensive” attempt to erode Louisiana residents’ confidence in the courts.
“This Judicial Hellhole report is financed by out-of-state special interests who want to protect those who have polluted Louisiana’s land and water and violated its rules,” Kleinpeter said. “This ‘report’ is created each year but it is not worth the paper it is written on.”
ATRA says its membership is “diverse and includes nonprofits, small and large companies, as well as state and national trade, business, and professional associations.”
“ATRA's members are largely Fortune 500 companies with a direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits,” according to the Center for Justice and Democracy, which advocates for plaintiffs. “Members have included representatives of the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto and pharmaceutical industries. Corporate giants like Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico and Nationwide have all supported ATRA.”
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was ranked as the worst “hellhole” in the country. California and New York City were listed second and third respectively.
Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett, LLC issued the following announcement on Sept. 30.
Gerard Dragna, a member of Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett’s trucking and transportation team, has been elected to represent the firm on the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry’s (LABI) Legal Advisory Council. The council has been formed to help LABI create judicial guidelines to set their policy priorities in the judicial branch and gather courtroom data needed to make informed advocacy decisions. Additionally, the council will be responsible for enhancing the business community’s amicus brief program.
For more than 40 years, LABI has used its credibility and influence to affect legislative change and create a pro-business climate to grow Louisiana’s economy. LABI serves its broad membership by working towards the singular goal of fostering a climate for economic growth through consistently championing the principles of the free enterprise system. The organization sets the standard for advocacy, providing policymakers with the information and perspective necessary to advance sound public policy that supports strong economic growth. LABI is proud to be Louisiana’s official state chapter for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. LABI represents more than 2,000 Louisiana employers, businesses of all sizes from a statewide, multi-industry perspective.
Original source can be found here.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry each year releases its scorecard, a comprehensive review of legislation that has faced the state in the last year.
In 2019, the scorecard included analysis on how each legislator voted on some of the issues that are most important to the business community as well as the economy. Rather than only examining the 2019 session, however, the 2019 scorecard dissects the progress of the past four years.
The Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch was pleased to see that LABI has continued in its efforts to bring transparency regarding legislation to those who call Louisiana their home.
“LLAW will continue to work collaboratively with LABI and other like-minded organizations to address the crippling impact of lawsuit abuse on Louisiana families and businesses,” Lana Venable, executive director of LLAW, told the Louisiana Record.
LABI went to great lengths to examine how lawsuit abuse impacted the state, she noted.
“As noted in the newly-released LABI Issue Scorecard, this has become a real pocketbook issue for all of us, as the correlation between our high insurance rates and litigious culture is striking a nerve with voters,” Venable said.
According to LABI president Stephen Waguespack, there were some legislative victories in the last session that Louisianans should be pleased about.
“This year, LABI led the way with a proactive effort to enact comprehensive tort reform, seek taxpayer fairness, and improve the economy,” he said. “Although opposed by the administration throughout the legislative process, a bill to require simple refunds of unconstitutional state taxes was signed into law by the governor. A major infrastructure funding package is now law that repurposes settlement funds from the Deepwater Horizon litigation, and a statewide ridesharing bill passed after years of defeat in the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Venable is still pushing for bringing reform to the area of lawsuit abuse, which she said continues to run rampant.
“While measures to improve our legal climate once again fell short during the recent legislative session, an informed and motivated electorate can choose leaders who are determined to change our culture of lawsuit abuse,” Venable said.
Louisiana’s powerful business lobby announced Thursday that it plans to ramp up activism in courtrooms with a new program meant to put a spotlight on the state’s opaque judiciary.
Though the public elects judges in Louisiana, voters are usually not privy to details about judicial misconduct that the Judiciary Commission can address with private cautions, admonishments and reminders to judges. Less than 1 percent of complaints filed about judges have reached the threshold to become public over the past five years, according to a recent Advocate analysis of Judiciary Commission data and rules about secrecy.
But the newspaper's exposure of hidden past investigations into Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes — and apology letters he later wrote to those who appeared in his courtroom — has given rise to calls for more transparency in the state’s judiciary. A Covington attorney recently filed a lawsuit to declare that the law that requires secrecy in judicial investigations is unconstitutional.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is also adding pressure on the system, and the group revealed details Thursday about its newly created judicial program. LABI plans to evaluate judges based on categories like the length of time it takes them to clear dockets, their professionalism and more.
Lauren Chauvin, the director of the new judicial program, said LABI's judicial program will differ vastly from its legislative one. For instance, the group will not score judges based on their decisions from the bench in the way that LABI releases score cards based on how legislators vote.
“This is LABI’s first real dip in the judiciary wholeheartedly,” she said. “Our members are frustrated with their lack of knowledge. … It’s time for there to be more transparency and engagement from the public. The courtrooms are for the citizens.”
Louisiana's Supreme Court spokesman Robert Gunn said Thursday that the court had no comment on the initiative from LABI.
LABI is also creating a legal advisory council, which will meet a few times a year to discuss court cases that may affect the state’s business community. And the lobby will also likely be filing more amicus briefs in the future; LABI has hired attorney Karen Eddlemon to head up its amicus program and to scour lawsuits for those that the group may want to wade into.
Stephen Waguespack, LABI's president and CEO, said in a statement that the judicial program has been three years in the making. Waguespack made a strong push in 2015 to require that judges post financial disclosure statements and publish them online, similar to what is required for legislators and other public servants.
The effort was unsuccessful. People who want to view financial disclosures for judges must request them from the Supreme Court.
“Ask yourself this: can you name your district judges?” Waguespack said in a statement. “Appellate judges? What about your Supreme Court Justice? For most citizens, the answer is unfortunately no, and with so much decided in our courtrooms that directly affects all of us, that needs to change.”
Richard Ducote, the attorney who filed the lawsuit about the Supreme Court's secrecy rules, applauded the lobby Thursday for advocating judicial accountability.
“I’m very happy to see the momentum and I am confident that things will change with the Judiciary Commission in short order,” Ducote said.
As part of an effort to expand its outreach and public presence, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is looking to create a legal advisory council to evaluate judges, their decisions, and how those affect the business community.
The group's civil justice director Lauren Chauvin said the initiative is an opportunity to get people more informed about how court cases, and who decides outcomes, can affect them.
“In general, we’re just getting more involved in the judiciary, just like we’re getting more involved in state-wide races,” said Chauvin, who added political involvement is more necessary now than it used to be. “You have to be on social media, you have to be paying attention at the federal level, and you have to be paying attention to all three branches of government.”
The new judicial program is part of LABI’s effort to be more active in the judiciary system, particularly in taking positions in significant litigation.
“Our legal advisory council is one piece of that,” she said. “It’s our grass-roots effort to have a more proactive amicus program – where we write into cases that will affect the business community in general.”
The president of the Louisiana State Bar Association Board of Governors, Robert A. Kutcher, however, has criticized the initiative in an article in The Advocate. He called it a “simplistic” effort.
“That was very disappointing, because he did not reach out to us and ask us about that,” Chauvin said.
Chauvin said LABI just wants transparency in the courts, so that the public has a better understanding of what is going on and that things operate more fairly.
“We’re looking for fair, diligent judges,” Chauvin said. “We think that when people are paying attention, that things run more smoothly. Democracy runs the best when you have an informed electorate.”
Civil justice reform group Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch is praising an industry association's legal advisory council initiative as a positive step toward transparency.
The Louisiana Association of Business & Industry's latest initiative will help inform how courts and judges’ decisions affect the business community as voters go to the polls.
Lana Venable, executive director of LLAW, said transparency in the legal system is critical for the citizenry, in order to make informed decisions at the ballot box.
“It is important to encourage transparency in our judicial system, as this first-of-its-kind effort is designed to do,” Venable said. “The council's aims are to highlight strengths in the current system, as well as areas that voters might think worthy of improvement.”
Some critics of LABI's council, including Robert A. Kutcher, president of the Louisiana State Bar Association's board of governors, say the council is “simplistic,” but Venable said she thinks it is a step forward.
“The goal of improving Louisiana’s courtroom culture is critical to ensure our civil justice system works for all Louisianans,” says Venable. “Information gleaned from this initiative is designed to help voters make informed decisions when electing our judiciary.”
The Pelican Institute for Public Policy, supports an initiative designed to bring greater transparency to the state's court system.
An effort being undertaken by the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry (LABI) to evaluate judges and take positions on important court cases is a “step in the right direction,” according to Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute.
“Much work is needed from many different fronts to reform a legal system rampant with lawsuit abuse and short on sunlight,” Erspamer said.
The Pelican Institute is a research and educational organization that conducts research and determines what would help advance sound policies based on free enterprise, individual liberty, and constitutionally-limited government, according to its website.
The LABI is creating a legal advisory council to evaluate judges, their decisions, and how those affect the business community, as well as Louisianans.
“More information – not less – should be available to citizens and voters on judges and their role in the state’s legal system, and we applaud anyone willing to step in and fill that void,” Erspamer said.