State senator viewpoint: Lack of factual, reliable discussion hurting Louisiana's financial future _lowres

 

Louisiana has a “troubled” legal system that’s bad for business? Not according to the recurring news headlines that tell of a booming business environment in our state.

Recent comments by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry come from the same so-called “studies” they have recycled for years. Each time their assertions blame the legal system and demonize lawyers and people who file lawsuits, their self-serving “studies” are widely discredited by scholars and the media as misleading and not an objective analysis of the legal system.

Theodore Eisenberg, a Cornell University professor of law and statistical sciences, has said such reports by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform are “inaccurate, unfair and bad for business.” Eisenberg noted that the chamber-backed information is flawed, lacks scientific methodology and “incorrectly characterizes state law.” In past years, even the chamber’s own pollster admitted they had no hard data to measure the perceived fairness of a state’s legal system (Copley News Service).

It’s been reported that chamber-inspired rankings of states’ courts came from selected corporate lawyers who work for companies with at least $100 million in annual revenue, and that some admitted they were unfamiliar with states’ laws or courts that they ranked.

In 2010, dismayed by misinformation and unfounded attacks on the judiciary and courts, the Louisiana Supreme Court, under then-Chief Justice Catherine Kimball, created an Ad Hoc Supreme Court Committee to Study the Perceptions of the Legal System. After extensive review of independent scholarly analyses, the committee agreed with conclusions that such subjective ratings of Louisiana’s legal system were not valid, accurate or fair.

During my years as a legislator in the House of Representatives and as a current senator, I have seen these “studies” presented at the Capitol by business and industry lobbyists on certain selected issues — for example, a concerted push to eliminate the state’s jury trial monetary threshold. This issue is not as simple as proponents make it seem.

It is unfair and misleading to compare Louisiana’s jury trial system (where litigants pay for a jury trial) and other states (where the state pays for jury trials). There are many other differences; yet, the “studies” resurface every year in Louisiana as well as in other state legislatures on totally different issues.

In 2006, St. Louis Post-Dispatch editors wrote: “Flash! Lawyers for big corporations like working in states where laws favor big corporations.” Editors said the point of these studies was to “pressure state legislatures to tilt the legal playing field even more radically toward the interests of corporations.”

It seems, too, that even when an “emergency” is declared in the legal system, there are contrasting headlines that proclaim Louisiana’s successful business achievements. A couple of days before ILR and LABI outlined their complaints in The Advocate, Louisiana Economic Development announced that Louisiana was a Top 10 state for business for the fifth consecutive year.

Remember that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a private entity and is one of the most well-funded lobbying organizations in the nation.

Remember that last year the U.S. Chamber rejected thousands of Gulf Coast business owners and sided instead with BP, the oil giant responsible for the worst environmental disaster ever in our state. The U.S. Chamber supported BP in its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court when it tried to back out of its settlement over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, St. Bernard Parish, River Region and other Gulf Coast chambers spoke out about the U.S. Chamber’s lack of support.

With the precarious financial future of higher education, health care and overall operation of our state, I would hope that discussion about immediate priorities would be factual, reliable and productive. Instead, what I see is an ill-timed release of questionable information at one of the most critical political crossroads in the history of our state.

When the 2016 Louisiana Legislature convenes in special or regular session, lawmakers will need more than “perceptions” in making important decisions that will bear long-term effect upon the lives of Louisiana citizens.

Rick Gallot Jr. is an attorney and state senator from Ruston.