LANDRY: Let’s Get Rid Of Buddy Caldwell’s Cronyist Contingency Fees

Give credit to conservative members of the Louisiana Legislature, like Rep. Stuart Bishop and Sen. Robert Adley. They have determined that we have a serious issue in Louisiana stifling business job creators and perverting public policy at the expense of the State’s treasury. That issue is the abuse of contingency fee contracts by state entities for the benefit of a small group of trial lawyers.

The idea behind contingency fee contracts is to ensure that indigent plaintiffs are not shut out of the courtroom. Many people simply cannot afford to pay for legal representation, so some lawyers will take the financial risk of financing the case based on the contingency that a recovery of damages will cover the expenses plus the risk. That is the purpose of contingency fee arrangements. They serve a legitimate purpose by ensuring that access to our court system is not only for the wealthy.

However, the State of Louisiana is not some indigent plaintiff. The State has the resources to finance its own legal representation and pay its own way. There are plenty of qualified attorneys in this state that would work hard to earn a reasonable fee. Trust me, we don’t have a shortage of attorneys in this state.

Therefore, when a legal wrong is committed against the State, a state agency, or other public interest, the funds recovered by the State’s legal representatives should go to the treasury of the State, just like our tax revenue. What’s at work here is not a fee arrangement that benefits the state. It’s a fee arrangement that benefits the current Attorney General’s friends. Months ago, I coined this arrangement the “Buddy System”
to describe this legal cronyism.

Instead of the taxpayers of Louisiana benefiting from making a wrong right, and therefore having revenue to help lower taxes or pay off bills, the Attorney General is allowing these funds to go right into the pockets of his trial lawyer buddies. This type of cronyism creates a legal environment that drives off high paying jobs and hinders business development.

When a business can be pulled into court as a result of a legitimate business activity that occurred 30, 40, even 50 years prior—when the activity was permitted and approved by the State—Houston, we have a problem! Or should I say, Baton Rouge is creating a problem! When our own Attorney General authorizes trial lawyers to seek damages for an activity the State permitted, it’s not a question of law. It’s a question of public policy.

Today, his target is the oil and gas industry. Tomorrow, it will be some other industry. What about our farmers? Should they be responsible for acts that occurred 30 years ago and were common industry practices at the time? Should you go back in time and hold every business and industry to current technological and scientific standards? Better put, should you be held accountable for a law that was created today, but that you did not violate decades ago? If a road is changed so that the speed limit becomes 35 MPH, but it used to be 50 MPH, should you get a ticket for driving 50 MPH ten years ago?

Those are not questions that should be answered by lawyers contracted by the State in pursuit of huge contingency fees that pad their pockets. They should be made by our Legislature. Our Attorney General has turned the keys of the public policy car over to environmental trial lawyers, and they’ve got big dollars in sight. They aren’t concerned about your jobs, the economy of this State, or the future of your children and grandchildren. They are concerned about big, green dollar bills.

I urge you to contact your State Senator and State Representative and tell them you don’t approve of this “Buddy System.” Tell them you support the idea of making contingency fee contracts by the State and its many political subdivisions illegal. If the State has been defrauded or damaged, there are plenty of methods available to address those losses without giving money to trial lawyers who are the friends of Buddy
Caldwell.

The State of Louisiana has the power to tax, to fine, to regulate and to make practically any activity illegal. The Attorney General can bring a violator to court and recover those damages and he can do it through his own office or by contracting legal expertise for reasonable fees. We don’t need a “Buddy System” in Louisiana.

It’s no wonder that Louisiana’s judicial system ranks at the bottom of the ladder and has been referred to as a “judicial hell hole”. Let’s put an end to it.

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