Bill attempting to scuttle lawsuit unconstitutional

Of all the proposed bills flowing through the legislative process in the state Capitol this spring, S.B. 553 may be the most

onerous.

The legislation by state Sen.

Robert Adley, R-Benton, is a thinly veiled attempt to scuttle a lawsuit

filed by the Southeast

Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against more than 90 oil

companies for alleged damages the companies’ exploration

activities caused to the Louisiana coastline and wetlands.

The SLFPAE suit contends that the

oil companies’ failure to restore or remedy canals they dug through

Louisiana’s wetlands

to position oil and gas drilling rigs has led, in part, to

catastrophic erosion that now threatens land in many of the parishes

along the state’s coast.

Should the defendants in the suit lose, they’d be liable for billions of dollars in restitution.

The oil industry has found several sympathetic lawmakers who have filed an array of bills in an attempt to torpedo the SLFPAE’s

suit. Oil industry spokesmen have characterized the suit as the handiwork of a handful of greedy lawyers who are trying to

milk billions from the companies.

They’ve found an ally in Adley,

whose bill would require that any board, commission or regional flood

protection authority

obtain the permission of the governor or the attorney general to

retain outside counsel. The governor, attorney general and

the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget would also have the

authority to determine how much the lawyers would be paid

if their employment was approved.

The kicker in all of this is that Adley’s bill, if approved, would be retroactive, giving Gov. Bobby Jindal the ability to

squelch the SLFPAE’s lawsuit.

The Senate has already approved

S.B. 553 by a 23-15 vote. It now moves to the House Committee on Civil

Law and Procedure,

a member of which is House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

Hopefully, someone on the committee will have the wisdom

to raise the question of the constitutionality of S.B. 553.

The first issue is giving a

governor or attorney general of the state veto power over whether a

board, commission or flood

authority could hire outside counsel. In the case of the SLFPAE

suit, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell approved the retention

of outside counsel when the plaintiffs requested a legal opinion.

But the real legal question is whether the Legislature can pass bills that enforce retroactively, and, in this case, have

the power to squelch filed lawsuits.

If the defendants in this case and

their friends in the Legislature believe that this is all about a few

“greedy lawyers,”

let S.B. 553 become state law and the rush to the courthouse by

attorneys to file suit based on the constitutionality of this

red herring will make the Oklahoma Land Rush look like a casual

stroll in the park.

Big Oil has found allies in the state Legislature. They’ll need a gusher of luck to find similar sympathies in the courthouse.