We hate to start off the week on a frightening note, but for those who don’t want to see the oil and gas industry dry up and blow away in Louisiana, taking the 250,000 jobs the industry supports with it, the Louisiana Supreme Court race centered in suburban New Orleans really needs to be an item of focus. Particularly given the announcement late last week that Freeport-McMoRan was coughing up a coastal lawsuit settlement, almost assuredly as a precursor to cutting ties with Louisiana altogether.
Follow us here, because there is a lot going on behind the scenes.
Most Hayride readers know that one of the first things John Bel Edwards did as governor was to bring together a cabal of plaintiff lawyers who had slathered his campaign and political action committees supporting him behind the idea of weaponizing them against the oil and gas industry. Many of them, perhaps most notably John Carmouche and Gladstone Jones, had already been working on the idea of suing oil companies for the state’s coastal erosion problems, because years and years ago oil companies had cut canals through the state’s coastal marshes in order to service inshore and offshore oil rigs and platforms. All of those canals had been dug according to permits from state and parish governments, and the state and those parishes had benefited from royalties and severance taxes from the activity covered by those permits.
The idea that somehow the oil and gas industry is therefore liable for damages according to lawful conduct these governments agreed to and gave sanction to is a patent injustice, the kind of garbage a Louisiana plaintiff lawyer would be famous for. It’s the most obvious reason why this state has long been considered one of America’s worst judicial hellholes. But when one of their number became governor, on the strength of millions of dollars in campaign cash from the rest, the foxes were now in charge of Louisiana’s economic henhouse.
The problem is the law isn’t really on the side of the cabal. In federal court these coastal lawsuits hit immediate roadblocks and it started to become obvious if the suits were to go anywhere – and most importantly, if they were to shake loose settlement offers like the one Freeport-McMoRan just coughed up last week – it would have to be in state courts where paydirt might be hit.
So Carmouche and his pals have been busily trying to buy up judges, and specifically they’ve been out to buy up Louisiana Supreme Court justices, because everybody knows that’s where these coastal lawsuits will ultimately be decided.
Since the Chief Justice, Bernette Johnson, is a left-wing Democrat, she was the first one they knew would be in their pocket. Carmouche bought Jeff Hughes in 2012 by throwing $1 million worth of PAC and other money into a crowded race with ads talking about how Hughes would be a fighter for God and guns and so forth, and dragged Hughes into a runoff despite an abysmal judicial record more or less across the board. Something similar happened in 2016 when coastal lawsuit money delivered Jimmy Genovese onto the Supreme Court in a close race.
There are seven Supreme Court justices. With one more, the coastal lawsuit cabal will have a majority of the Supreme Court in their pockets. And when that happens, particularly if Edwards is re-elected, you will see those Freeport-McMoRan settlements mushroom – and with them, the exit of most of the players in oil and gas in Louisiana.
Which is why the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Greg Guidry’s move to the federal bench is so crucial. There are two judges in the race who by all rights appear to be solid conservatives – Will Crain and Scott Schlegel.
And then there’s Hans Liljeberg, who’s known in legal circles as a guy who’s just kind of there. Liljeberg doesn’t have a judicial record with red flags everywhere like Hughes did, but he’s also not known as a particular legal genius, either. Crain, whose record marks him as a solid conservative jurist, and Schlegel, who has a record as a reform conservative (he’s done a lot of work in the realm of criminal justice reform from the conservative side, for example), are both considered very bright and very qualified as potential Supreme Court additions.
Meantime Liljeberg is racking up cash from plaintiff lawyers, and specifically plaintiff lawyers working on those coastal lawsuits.
From campaign finance reports covering the period ending on September 2, we know Liljeberg is heavily funded by Carmouche and his cronies.
He’s received $5,000 contributions from three law firms involved in coastal lawsuits – Morrow Morrow Ryan Basset & Haik, Cossich Sumich Parisola & Taylor, and Veron Bice Palermo & Wilson. What’s more, the LA Republican Judiciary PAC, which is run by Scott Wilfong, a political consultant tied to Carmouche, received 100% of its funding from Mudd & Bruchhaus, the Lake Charles-based law firm that is partnered up with Carmouche in the Cameron Parish coastal litigation. That was a $100,000 check Mudd & Bruchhaus wrote.
So we understand the players here. Cossich Sumich Parsiola & Taylor, a firm out of Belle Chasse, represents three parishes in those coastal lawsuits. Veron Bice Palermo & Wilson, out of Lake Charles, represents local officials and the Governor’s Office in the suits. Morrow Morrow Ryan Basset & Haik, out of Opelousas, was in on the Freeport-McMoRan settlement last week as were all of the others listed above.
Then there’s another PAC supporting Liljeberg. That would be the Citizens Crime Fighting PAC received $215,000 in contributions from Talbot Carmouche & Marcello, which is John Carmouche’s firm and which has dumped $140,000 into that PAC so far, Morrow Morrow Ryan Basset & Haik ($25,000), and Cossich Sumich Parisola & Taylor ($50,000).
So if you’re counting, that’s $330,000 in direct and PAC contributions to Liljeberg’s campaign so far, not even counting what he and those PAC’s supporting him have brought in during the month of September (Liljeberg’s special report filed over the weekend has several new contributions from law firms, including $5,000 from Dudley DeBosier, who so far as we know does car wrecks and slip-and-falls rather than coastal lawsuits).
Again – it’s not that Liljeberg is some flaming liberal or a RINO per se. But if he ends up getting elected to the Supreme Court there will be four of the seven justices who are either ideologically on board with those coastal lawsuits or were on the court because Carmouche and his cronies put them there with heavy contributions to their campaigns.
And if you’re the oil and gas industry, which is already turning its nose up at making large new investments in upstream (exploration and production) projects in this state, your options start to become limited and obvious. You’re going to look at the lay of the land and you’re going to do exactly what Freeport-McMoRan did. You’re going to negotiate the smallest exit fee you can, of which Carmouche and his pals will take a healthy cut, and then you’re going to move jobs and capital out of Louisiana rather than swim in these shark-infested waters.
Sure, Exxon Mobil and Shell, who have gigantic downstream facilities like refineries and chemical plants, will continue to operate here for now. They won’t expand those facilities like they will in Texas, but they won’t be leaving. But as far as drilling new wells or setting up oil platforms off the Louisiana coast, don’t look for too much activity anytime soon if this LASC race goes to the coastal cabal.
Those are awfully high stakes for a judicial race, and practically zero coverage has been given to what the Crain-Schlegel-Liljeberg race actually means to Louisiana’s economy. But there it is. Vote accordingly if you’re in the district.