- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Lawyers for a south Louisiana flood control board say they’ll change their contingency fee contract in a suit accusing 97 oil and gas companies of contributing to coastal erosion if the companies will pay them as part of a settlement.

The lawsuit, which Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes, seeks to hold the industry accountable for damage done by dredging for pipelines and canals and other activity in fragile coastal wetlands.

“The oil and gas industry has used the rhetoric of ‘greedy trial lawyers’ to distract from the true facts of this case that show these companies played a role in the coastal erosion of south Louisiana. This proposal puts an end to that distraction,” said Gladstone Jones, lead attorney for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

A state Senate committee has approved a bill that would invalidate the attorneys’ contract, which would give them a percentage of any money won for the board and nothing if they lose. The bill would require the governor’s approval before state flood protection authorities hire outside lawyers - and would make that requirement retroactive.

The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, the Jindal administration and the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Robert Adley, contend the contract is illegal - that the board did not give proper public notice about its plans and had no authority either to file the suit or to hire private lawyers on contingency fees.

“Public pressure is finally having an effect on the few greedy trial lawyers who stood to make over a billion dollars on their lawsuits,” LOGA President Don Briggs said. “Rather than Gladstone Jones and his cohorts scheming to reposition their outrageous contingency fee-based contract, we call on them to end the abusive suits that are contributing to the loss of thousands of local jobs.”

Jerome Zeringue, the governor’s executive assistant for coastal activities, said, “This ‘offer’ misses the most important point … Neither the SLFPA-E nor its attorneys have authority to prosecute a lawsuit or to negotiate a settlement to remedy the ‘land loss crisis facing coastal Louisiana.’ “

Adley said Tuesday that the attorneys’ offer to rewrite the contract amounts to admitting he’s right.

A state judge ruled in March that the board can hire outside attorneys. She also said she accepted the state attorney general’s findings and conclusions. Those conclusions called the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association’s challenge to the contract frivolous.

Jones said, “The only conclusion by a trial judge in the state of Louisiana in the last 10 years, that I am aware of, that a lawsuit was frivolous was in LOGA’s suit challenging the contract. It is nonsense for Senator Adley to use that line over and over that there’s something illegal or untoward about those contracts.”

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