Gov. Bobby Jindal, with the signing of House Bill 799, has continued his assault on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), underscoring the importance and power of special interest money over the welfare of the state.
HB 799, authored by Rep. Stuart J. Bishop (R-Lafayette), bars the Louisiana attorney general from hiring plaintiff attorneys on a contingency-fee basis to pursue litigation against corporations like Chinese dry wall manufacturers responsible for millions of dollars in damages to new homes in Louisiana, pharmaceutical companies accused of price fraud at the wholesale level and of selling pharmaceutical products not approved by the federal government, companies found to be improperly handling underground storage tanks, or tobacco companies whose seven top executives (to evermore be known as the “seven dwarves”) lied under oath to Congress in saying nicotine was not addictive.
Bishop cited fees of $51.4 million paid state-contracted attorneys in a case against the pharmaceutical industry that resulted in a $285 million verdict. That computes to a fee of about 18 percent as compared to the 30 percent norm usually charged by attorneys hired on contingency.
A $235.7 million settlement of another pharmaceutical case resulted in attorney fees of $46.6 million, or 19.7 percent. The Coalition for Common Sense, a group describing itself as committed to a fair legal climate said another portion of that settlement went to repay two-thirds of the state’s Medicaid expenses. The coalition said that bumped the legal fees up to 34.2 percent, but without further clarification, it seems difficult to equate Medicaid fees to legal fees. That would seem to come under the purview of Jindal’s continued mismanagement of the state’s Medicaid program.
In yet another case, attorneys, including Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s campaign treasurer and other contributors, received $4 million in fees, or 9.4 percent, of a $42.5 million case.
Granted, it doesn’t look good for Caldwell’s campaign treasurer to receive a contract but the obvious question is how is that any different than Jindal’s former executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth getting contracts to represent the state in one losing case after another—at fees which now exceed $1 million?
Jindal’s penchant for protecting the oil companies, who have contributed more than $1 million to his various campaigns, is by now well-known. His largesse has even extended to BP which may have negated pending claims against the company for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and pumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.
The fact that the governor’s brother works for BP, of course, had nothing to do with Jindal’s decision to sign Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) which killed the SLFPA-E lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for damages inflicted to Louisiana’s coastline and marshlands. SB 469 also made the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was nipped in the bud.
(Allain, by the way, was the one who slipped that $2 million appropriation into the 2013 Capital Outlay Bill to renovate the third floor of an old elementary school in Franklin for conversion to a museum to house the archives of former Gov. Mike Foster who will now become the only governor in Louisiana history to have his archives housed in something other than a university library.)
Jindal, in signing SB 469 into law, said the law would stop “unnecessary frivolous lawsuits.”
Allain, also invoking the “frivolous lawsuit” catch phrase, also said if allowed to stand, it would “hurt jobs.”
Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), who lobbied for the bill and who has been the beneficiary of more than $600,000 in oil and gas campaign contributions, said, “This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this state and trying to raise money through illegal actions.”
Perhaps Sen. Adley should take a long inward look at misrepresenting the state and raising campaign money through legal but questionable means.
Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs called Jindal’s signing of the bill “a huge victory for the oil and gas industry.”
What all three men seem to have overlooked is that when companies that traditionally reap billions in quarterly profits each year walk away from their responsibilities to repair damage they inflict on the environment in their non-stop quest for even more profits, then sometimes those “greedy lawyers” need to step up and hold these companies accountable.
And of course there was SB 667 which neutered the so-called “legacy lawsuits” over environmental damage from oil and gas companies’ tendency to walk away from well sites on private property without bothering to restore the property to its original condition.
And let’s never forget that a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to oppose environmental protections, be they EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases or legacy lawsuits. At the top of ALEC’s membership list in leading the fight against environmental laws, and the rights to hold corporations legally accountable are such familiar corporations as Exxon/Mobil, BP, Chevron, Shell and, of course, Koch Industries.
At least two of those legacy lawsuits succeeded before SB 667 was signed into law by Jindal.
- The first, a $76 million award, was litigated by Lake Charles attorney J. Michael Veron on behalf of family members whose property was heavily polluted—and subsequently abandoned—by Shell Oil. Veron authored a book entitled Shell Game about the litigation. In the book, he describes in detail how he was called into then-Gov. Foster’s office and lectured to like a misbehaving schoolboy. Despite the heavy pressure from Foster, Veron persisted and eventually won.
Foster, of course, is the one responsible for our present predicament: he discovered Jindal—“the smartest man I ever met,” he said—and appointed him head of the Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24.
- The second case was that of Bill Doré, retired chairman of Global Industries of Sulphur. Doré made a fortune from the Southwest Louisiana oil patch but when he purchased Cameron Meadows in Cameron Parish with the intent of constructing a hunting lodge, he discovered the land had been polluted by oil companies to such an extent that alligator, fish and other wildlife populations had dwindled significantly and that wherever he stepped on the property, oil and brine would ooze to the surface. He sued Exxon/Mobil whose executives promptly summoned him to Houston for a come to Jesus meeting at which they informed him that if he continued on his quixotic quest, he would lose valuable Exxon/Mobil business. He more or less told the Exxon/Mobil suits what they could do with their business, which amounted to some $37 million over the years. He reminded them that because Exxon, the richest company on earth, insisted on such rigid contract firms by forcing vendors to accept smaller margins as the cost of doing volume business with them, Global had actually lost $7 million on its Exxon/Mobil business. Represented by New Orleans attorney Gladstone Jones, the same attorney representing SLPFA-E, Doré won a $57 million judgment against the giant oil company.
In an interesting side bar to the story, a small Cameron café catered the meals for both sides and the jurors during the protracted Doré trial. Attorneys for both sides agreed to split the cost of having meals for both sides. Following the two-week trial and after each side had paid its share of the costs, Doré’s legal team gave the café’s staff a $1,000 tip. The tip from attorneys for Exxon/Mobil was $20—almost as if the café’s staff was responsible for the adverse verdict.
So now, it comes full circle.
The SLPFA-E board, stacked with Jindal appointees after he replaced rebel John Barry, the leading proponent of the litigation, voted 4-4 last week on a motion to withdraw the suit. While a majority was required for passage, it appears to be academic. Jindal’s signing of SB 469 would seem to ring the death knell for any future legal action.
So now, the state is virtually powerless to seek remediation for damages done to our coastline such as that depicted in this video:
Greedy lawyers? Frivolous lawsuits?
So, where does all that special interest money we alluded to in the first paragraph come in?
Well, LouisianaVoice has already provided an itemized list of oil and gas industry contributions to each of the state’s 144 legislators that totals more than $5.2 million and we earlier cited contributions to Jindal in excess of $1 million from the same industry.
But how did the contributions break out on the House and Senate votes on the infamous SB 469?
We’re glad you asked. We’ve done the math for you.
In the senate, the 25 senators who voted in favor of the bill killing the SLPFA-E litigation received $1.99 million from oil and gas interests, or an average of $79,664 each.
The 11 who voted against killing the lawsuit combined to receive $591,000, or $53,769 each—a difference of nearly $26,000 each.
Now let’s stroll across the Capitol Rotunda to the House side where vote-buying is a little less expensive, more economical if you will.
The 59 members who voted in favor of SB 469 combined to rake in $1.885 million, or just a tad under $32,000 each while the 39 nay votes took in $889,281 between them, or an average take of $23,402, a difference of about $9,600 each.
Moreover, during debate on SB 469, the State Capitol was swarming with lobbyists from BP, which stood to benefit mightily from passage of the bill.
So, you see, it’s really pretty evident that money—lots of it—tends to flow freely in the Capitol and its influence is completely out of kilter with the intent of a democratic republic. We no longer have a representative government for the people but a representative government for those who can wave the most money under the noses of our elected officials.
As one legislator who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous as to his name, the area of the state he represents and even the chamber in which he sits, said in a recent email to a constituent:
“When a fella has the oil and gas lobbyists, the LABI lobbyists, and the governor’s office all on the same team and wanting you to be on the same team, well, it was a challenging last few days of the session. I thought then, and I still hold the belief, that this is a bad bill (now a law since Gov. Jindal has now signed it) and sets a horrible precedent. Again, this administration has assured another legal challenge to a law it supported and I expect a lawsuit to be filed before long.
“I appreciate your taking time to send me your email. When I was down there surrounded by many who were interested in me only for the vote of the moment, expressions such as yours remind me of my commitment to the good people of the district I serve and confirms that, in the face of all those present in the Capitol during the session, I was sent there to represent those who can’t be there.”