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James Gill: Does Louisiana being ranked last in a survey register with residents anymore?

September 16, 2017
By James Gill
Originally Posted on The New Orleans Advocate

Opinions will vary whenever government gets involved in litigation with business.

Some will agree with plaintiff lawyers that government has an obligation to resist the exploitation of vulnerable citizens by heartless profiteers.

Others will aver that our “elected leaders” are “shaking down job creators any chance they get.”

The latter view, naturally, is the one espoused by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in its response to a “lawsuit climate survey” conducted by U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

When you see the word “survey” in the paper, you will know, from years of experience, what's coming next. Sure enough. Louisiana is the worst state in the union.

This is way beyond tiresome, the way we are ranked at the wrong end of every league table, when Louisiana does not appear to us to be such a terrible place. The temptation is to tell the pollsters to get lost.

In any case, when surveys rate the states not by objective standards, but by perception, it is likely that our reputation precedes us. There may be a Pavlovian element to our habitual poor score.

According to the Chamber, an important consideration for businesses, when deciding where to set up shop, is whether they expect the courts to be friendly.

Thus, the Chamber's polling company sought the views of 1,300 “senior business lawyers and executives in companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million.” Respondents were asked what they thought of the laws, court systems, judges and juries of the several states.

That the answer in Louisiana's case was not much need not depress us, if we value the right of the average Joe to seek redress from errant fat cats. The lawyers and executives who responded to the survey have an obvious ax to grind. They want a sympathetic court system, whereas the general preference might run more to justice.

In any case, we only have their word for it that the movers and shakers have scotched plans to set up or expand in Louisiana because of its court system's alleged shortcomings. Maybe it is a factor sometimes, but the natural resources and the transportation network must be what brings business running.

Give us what we want or we'll leave is a familiar threat or bluff.

LABI, of course, is four-square behind the Chamber, echoing its call for reform of the court system in a column by its president, Stephen Waguespack, who notes that “we need every private sector job we can get.”

Thus do lawsuits become shakedowns, and corporate chieftains job creators, as if their principal motivation were philanthropic. There is no point in such linguistic pussyfooting. The whole world knows that they go into business to create wealth for themselves, and thank the Lord they do, because the more they prosper the more help they will be obliged to hire.

Certainly, the role of the courts is to preserve the entrepreneur — and anyone else — from any unfair burdens, and Louisiana's are allegedly coming up short. The Chamber cites Louisiana's “long history of litigation abuse and the questionable integrity of its courts.” Waguepack fears that a move to sue pharmaceutical companies will lead to “a feeding frenzy on any industry investing in Louisiana.” He also avers that Louisiana, where civil suits are heard by a judge rather than a jury for when the sum at issue is less than $50,000 — easily the highest threshold in the country — has created a “profitable market in car-wreck cases.”

It seems therefore that business organizations just don't trust Louisiana judges, and it is hard to take issue with that. Very few judges are on the take, but they all need to keep an eye on the next election, and total impartiality can become difficult to achieve.

The campaign to switch to an appointed judiciary in Louisiana seeks to have lost steam in recent years, and there may not be much support for any less dramatic reforms that business might push in light of the lawsuit climate survey.

The trouble is we're so used to being last that it hardly registers anymore.