Creating a more business-friendly legal environment should be the top policy goal for Louisiana, the head of an influential statewide business lobby said Thursday.
“It’s absolutely the top thing we have to fix,” said Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
This year, Louisiana elections and the impact of term limits create an opportunity, Waguespack said. LABI is holding “boot camps” around the state to help “business-oriented people” learn the basics of how to run for state and local office in hopes of bringing some fresh faces into politics.
Boot camp participants don’t necessarily agree with LABI on every issue, Waguespack said. But LABI also is looking for potential candidates who consider tort reform a high priority.
“We’re putting together the apparatus, the infrastructure to find the right candidates, recruit them, put them in office and give them the support,” he said.
LABI also will be putting more focus on the judiciary, Waguespack said. For the first time, it will create a scorecard for judges like it has in the past for legislators.
“We want to be able to shine a spotlight,” he said. “Who are the judges who are doing a great job of being impartial evaluators of the law, and who are those that aren’t?”
Waguespack was one of the speakers at a luncheon meant to spotlight what sponsors consider a crisis of “lawsuit abuse” in Louisiana. Harold Kim with the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform was the keynote speaker.
Kim said Louisiana’s legal climate was ranked worst in the nation in a survey of in-house corporate counsels. Many of those attorneys don’t think they’ll get a “fair shake” in the state’s courts.
“Basically, it’s an extortion game to leverage huge amounts of money from companies,” Kim said.
Issues cited include the state’s large population of lawyers, the high threshold for requiring a jury trial, and flexible rules regarding proper venues that critics say allow plaintiff attorneys to shop for friendly judges.
The chamber says Louisiana paid $6.9 billion in tort costs in 2016. Every household paid a “tort tax” of a little more than $4,000, Kim said.
“The folks in this room are going to have to lead the charge,” he said. “We cannot be divided.”
Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, Louisiana Coalition for Common Sense, and the Grow Louisiana Coalition sponsored the luncheon. LABI, the Louisiana Motor Transport Association, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association were listed as “event supporters.”