(UPDATED) Don Briggs And The Flood Authority Lawsuit

It appears the back-and-forth between the Louisiana Oil And Gas Association, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Control Authority-East has turned into a courtroom drama of sorts.

A release sent out yesterday afternoon by LOGA…

Statement Regarding Don Briggs’ Health

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Baton Rouge, LA- Due to a recent lawsuit that was filed by LOGA against the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, LOGA President, Don Briggs was required to give a deposition on Thursday, February 20th regarding the ongoing case. As a result of this deposition, Mr. Briggs’ pre existing heart issue was aggravated.  Mr. Briggs was subpoenaed to appear in court today, February 24, 2014, to further discuss the ongoing case. His physician advised that he not continue with further examination by the court so as to not further damage his health. Mr. Briggs’ doctor provided correspondence and notice to the court, indicating that his health may be jeopardized if he appeared.

Today, despite his current health condition, the attorneys for the AG continued to insist that Mr. Briggs appear, resulting in the judge issuing a bench warrant for Mr. Briggs’ not appearing in court. The warrant will be pursued unless Mr. Briggs appears in court before 9:30am, tomorrow, February 25th, 2014.

Don Briggs’ chief concern has been and will continue to be this lawsuit against the AG’s office and LOGA’s involvement with the ongoing South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East lawsuit. However, LOGA’s top priority now, is the health and well being of our president, and for that matter, any LOGA employees.

LOGA will provide Don Briggs’ additional medical history tomorrow, February 25, 2014.

LOGA is suing the Attorney General over the issue of his approval of the hiring of lawyers on a contingency basis to represent the flood authority in their suit against every oil company in sight. As this has turned into a messy confrontation, it’s clear Caldwell and his staff aren’t in an amicable mood.

And the judge in this case?

Janice Clark. Naturally.

If you’re not familiar with Janice Clark, she’s the judge who was threatening to put members of the LSU Board of Supervisors in jail essentially for appealing a ruling of hers over the question of disclosing the names of the candidates for the job of LSU President last year.

The AG’s lawyers don’t want to cross-examine Briggs over LOGA’s lawsuit. They want to cross-examine him (or examine him, to be more clear) over a countersuit they filed over the question of whether the “workaround” they came up with which would allow the AG to sanction the use of contingency-fee lawyers is legal. They sued LOGA for lack of somebody else to sue on the question, so that’s why Briggs is involved.

But Don Briggs isn’t a lawyer. It’s difficult to understand exactly what anyone thinks he’s going to bring to the table in a lawsuit involving legal technicalities. His response to virtually any relevant questions could well be “I have no idea.”

We’re told that yesterday Briggs’ blood pressure was over 200. He’s only a few months removed from heart surgery.

But we’re also told that Janice Clark said she’d have an EMT on hand for the testimony she demands he give today. So if he has a heart attack right there on the stand maybe he won’t die.

If you’d like to call this a circus, you’re welcome to. We prefer the term “shitshow,” but to each his own.

UPDATE: Briggs didn’t make it into court, and the Attorney General’s people are hacking away at him in the media. From the Times-Picayune article on the case…

Leo Honeycutt, communications director for Caldwell, said it was not the attorney general’s lawyers who pressed the issue of Briggs’ failure to appear.

“Judge Clark was angered because (1) Briggs filed the suit; (2) Briggs knew this court date was coming and the rest of us showed up; and (3) Briggs was subpoenaed but defied the subpoena because in his deposition last Thursday he discovered he had no evidence, no case, and hadn’t even read his own lawsuit,” Honeycutt said in a statement emailed from the courtroom Tuesday.

Briggs’ troubles began Monday, when an attorney representing him presented a letter from his doctor explaining his absence. Clark called the doctor to discuss the letter presented her recommending against his testimony, “and said she could allay his concerns about his ability to handle the situation,” said E. Wade Shows, an attorney representing the Attorney General’s Office in the hearing.

“At that point, (Briggs) apparently went to another doctor,” Shows said. “The second doctor didn’t write a letter, but called and left a message with Mr. Briggs’ attorney, and she was not satified with the doctor’s call.”

Honeycutt said Briggs’ failure to show up also is curious because he gave a keynote speech to 300 people at Lafayette’s Petroleum Club only three weeks ago “in which he stated the oil industry was enjoying the best year in 40 years with the greatest potential he had ever seen.”

“This is bizarre, unbelievable and ridiculous behavior by a man who constantly rails against frivolous lawsuits,” Honeycutt said. “Now, he is one.”

Honeycutt accused Briggs of engaging in stall tactics aimed at delaying the levee authority’s lawsuit “long enough to give (Gov. Bobby) Jindal time to replace enough (authority) board members who’ll stop the suit.”

If Honeycutt’s name is familiar, that’s because he’s a former news anchor for WVLA-TV in Baton Rouge and he’s also Edwin Edwards’ biographer.

Honeycutt’s understanding of the case is a bit different than what we’re told; the word we received was, as we reported above, that today’s testimony was to involve the AG’s countersuit.

By the way, Wade Shows is Caldwell’s campaign guru and one of the people who has benefited most greatly from the contingency fee arrangements at issue in this case.

A little more, this from the Advocate

Richard McGimsey, head of the civil division of the Attorney General’s Office and the only witness to actually testify Monday, told Mahtook the office had always considered the flood protection authority as a political subdivision and always used the same procedures. In this case, McGimsey said, he alerted Caldwell to the hiring of the flood protection authority’s attorneys and the suit because it “seemed significant enough to bring to the attention of the attorney general.”

Monday’s hearing comes days after Briggs told lawyers with the Attorney General’s Office and the flood authority that he could not identify any companies that had pulled out of Louisiana or declined to drill in the state because of the legal climate.

The claim that the lawsuit, and other cases accusing oil and gas companies of environmental damage, would hurt the industry and curtail economic development in Louisiana has been a primary argument made by LOGA, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Jindal administration and other opponents of the suit.

Gladstone Jones, one of the attorneys representing the flood protection authority, said it was ironic that Briggs, who has argued the authority’s lawsuit is frivolous, did not appear at a hearing for his own lawsuit.

Jones also defended the procedures used by the flood protection authority.

“This may be the most frivolous case in the state of Louisiana,” he said.

The issue is not and has never been that oil companies would “pull out” of Louisiana. It’s that they won’t invest in new projects here. And that’s hardly something Briggs would be able to prove with the kind of specificity they’re going to want in a court of law.

Suing an oil company for some harm it supposedly committed in, say, 1954, isn’t going to make that oil company abandon $100 million in producing assets it already has here. Unless that oil company can unload those assets and somehow free itself from the lawsuit there is no point in their pulling out; either they can turn a profit on those assets, in which case they’re not going anywhere, or they’re stuck here and they’ve got to do what they can to avoid losses where possible.

What Briggs and LOGA are alleging as the harm of the flood authority lawsuits is that they will make Louisiana extremely unpalatable as a venue for future oil and gas development, and that will greatly harm the local service companies and independent drillers who constitute the bulk of their membership. When the big boys in Houston say they’re not going to make investments in offshore drilling for fear of getting dragged further into a bunch of lawsuits by flood control boards and parish governments represented by Buddy Caldwell’s campaign contributors on contingency, that means Billy Bob’s Industrial Pipe Supply in Duson doesn’t get contracts to make industrial pipe to those big boys for their offshore exploration.

It’s valid to say that LOGA needs to prove some harm in this lawsuit, and maybe that’s something that would ultimately kill their case. And maybe it’s correct that Briggs’ aim is to tie this thing up in the courts until the legislature can ride in to the rescue and blow those coastal lawsuits away. But to say it’s dispositive that because Don Briggs couldn’t point to specific oil companies who will abandon Louisiana if those lawsuits go forward no harm can be proved is a stretch. The harm would seem to be obvious; there are a lot of major domestic oil and gas plays out there, and oil companies don’t have to put their money here in Louisiana.

There is a reason why the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale isn’t being developed at a rapid pace and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas is. It’s the legal climate here wherein there are hundreds of those dubious “legacy lawsuit” cases being filed in Louisiana and exactly zero in Texas. Add to that all the coastal lawsuits and it’s pretty obvious harm will be done to the oil and gas business here.

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