Louisiana courts, judges get failing marks

Chris Rizo Mar. 22, 2010, 12:01am

BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline)-Louisiana has the second most unfair courts in the nation, a survey released today of top corporate lawyers and business executives indicates.

A Harris Interactive survey found that only West Virginia's courts were more biased than those in the Bayou State. New Orleans ranked as one of the worst court systems in the nation; it tied for tenth place.

The Harris survey, taken from October to January, was commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which owns this publication.

The survey asked 1,482 corporate lawyers and executives about various aspects of states' legal systems, including venue requirements, discovery, damage awards, jury fairness and judges' competence.

Louisiana ranked among the bottom in all of the categories. Harris respondents have consistently placed Louisiana among the five worst states for judges' impartiality and competence. This year, jurists in Louisiana ranked 49th in both categories.

Of the lawyers and executives surveyed this year, more than two-thirds said a state's legal environment is a key factor in making strategic business decisions at their company, such as where to expand or locate.

"A state's poor legal climate negatively impacts its economic environment, discourages business expansion and slows the creation of new jobs," said Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. "At a time when state leaders are working to spur economic development, they must remember that Louisiana needs more jobs, not more lawsuits."

Of the survey's respondents, 56 percent said they believe the fairness and reasonableness of state court liability systems in America is fair or poor, while 44 percent said they saw the system as excellent or pretty good.

The survey's margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The study was conducted by New York-based Harris Interactive.

Highlighting how lawsuits cost local businesses, the Institute for Legal Reform announced a new national advertising campaign. The effort, dubbed "Jobs, Not Lawsuits," will include two-minute movie trailers on more than 300 movie screens around the country.

One of the spots features the story of Mike Carter of Monroe, La., whose company, Monroe Rubber and Gasket, has been fighting a spate of more than 100 asbestos-related lawsuits even though the company has not handled anything related to asbestos in more than two decades.

Even then, the company was an intermediary seller of some materials that contained encapsulated asbestos, which remains legal.

"The silver screen is the perfect place to tell these true stories of businesses that have been victimized by an unfair legal system," Rickard said. "We want people to see the real life consequences of these lawsuits."

For the Chamber's State Liability Systems Ranking Study, Harris Interactive surveyed general counsels and senior attorneys or executives in companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million. Respondents were asked to rank how states treat tort, contract and class action litigation.

Nationally, Delaware continues to have the best legal climate in the United States, while West Virginia still holds the distinction of having the most anti-business courts in the nation.

Other states with the most favorable legal environments were North Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, and Iowa. At the bottom of the list are California, Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia.

Delaware has been ranked No. 1 in the annual survey for the past seven years, while West Virginia has placed dead last for four years.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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