La. rep. says opponent threatened his career over legacy lawsuit reform

Kyle Barnett Apr. 23, 2012, 7:30am


BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) - Weeks before a Louisiana House committee voted on a civil litigation reform measure, state Rep. Neil Abramson said he was lured to a remote part of the capitol and had his career threatened by an individual whose identity he is not revealing.

"In my five years of public service it has never happened to me before what has happened to me on this topic - that I was threatened and attempted to be coerced in the handling of my matters as a public servant," Abramson said. "I think that is completely out of bounds and inappropriate."

Abramson's remarks were heard in a video recording of a Civil Law Committee on Tuesday.

The committee, which Abramson chairs, passed a legacy lawsuit reform proposal that would change the way courts deal with environment lawsuits. It would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to limit damages to the amount it would cost industries to clean up sites before a jury is allowed to hear the case.

This change would clear up one of the energy industry's complaints that anyone who owns land that was formerly used for drilling, whether polluted or not, could benefit from filing a lawsuit without having to prove damages.

During Tuesday's committee hearing, Abramson said that he had represented clients in the energy industry, but that most of the elected leaders also sponsored or voted on legislation that was in their area of expertise.

"We have legislators that are pharmacists that bring pharmacist's bills. Farmers that brings farmer's bills," said Abramson. "That's how the process works. There is nothing wrong with it."

Abramson also said the opposition was attempting to manipulate media sources to put pressure on legislators.

Shortly after passage of Abramson's reform bill, plaintiff attorney Don Carmouche of Baton Rouge-based Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello filed an ethics violation complaint against Abramson.

The complaint filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program claims Abramson had a financial incentive to pass reform legislation that would benefit the energy industry.

Abramson is a partner in New Orleans-based firm Lisko & Lewis which provides defense for the energy and natural resources industry.

Carmouche's firm represents landowners who claim their land was polluted by oil drilling.

"What it shows is this is not about protecting landowners rights at all. This is about protecting legacy lawyer profits," said Melissa Landry, Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch.

"Personally, if I were a landowner I would be embarrassed by their behavior and be looking for new representation."

In addition, Carmouche's firm has been attempting to depose LSU researcher Dr. David Dismukes who authored a study linking legacy lawsuits to $6.8 billion lost by the state over the past eight years.

Dismukes's attorneys called the deposition an "attempt to chill academic freedom."

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