on February 24, 2014 at 7:25 PM, updated February 25, 2014 at 1:43 AM
A Baton Rouge state judge Monday ordered the president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association to appear in court Tuesday or face jail for contempt, according to attorneys attending what was supposed to be a hearing on the association’s effort to block wetlands litigation against some of its members.
The order came after LOGA’s President Don Briggs failed to appear at the hearing, which aimed to address the association’s lawsuit seeking to rescind Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s approval of the east bank levee authority’s decision to hire a law firm to file thewetlands damage suit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.
Briggs was in Lafayette Monday, according to his son, Gifford Briggs, who is vice president of LOGA. Gifford Briggs said LOGA would issue a statement on Monday’s court proceedings later Monday evening. Briggs’ attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment.
A secretary in the office of 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark said the judge had gone home for the day and could not confirm the warrant was issued. Robert Mahtook, an attorney representing LOGA in court Monday, also could not be reached for comment.
But E. Wade Shows, an attorney representing the Attorney General’s Office, said Clark issued the bench warrant after a long day in which a LOGA attorney said Briggs was too ill to attend.
“Mr. Briggs has been subpoenaed, which is basically an order of the court,” Shows said. “Mr. Briggs failed to appear in court and the judge was not satisfied with the reason for his failure to appear. She has commanded him to come before her court Tuesday morning and respond to the subpoena.”
Shows said LOGA’s attorney submitted a note from a Lafayette doctor that expressed concerns about Briggs appearing in court.
“She then called the doctor on the phone and went over what the letter said and said she could allay his concerns about his ability to handle the situation,” Shows said. “At that point, (Briggs) apparently went to another doctor. The second doctor didn’t write a letter, but called and left a message with Mr. Briggs’ attorney, and she was not satified with the doctor’s call.”
The LOGA lawsuit, filed in December, asked the court to rule that Caldwell’s office improperly approved a contract between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and the Jones Swanson Huddell & Garrison LLC law firm, which is representing the levee authority in the wetlands suit. LOGA also is asking for an injunction rescinding Caldwell’s approval of the contract.
In statements before and after the suit was filed, Briggs has argued that the suit against oil and gas firms was driving companies out of the state, potentially costing Louisiana millions of dollars in lost tax revenue and hundreds of jobs.
The LOGA suit contends the Legislature didn’t provide the levee authority the right to hire special counsel, and that only the attorney general or a special counsel hired by the attorney general can represent it.
If the attorney general were to hire a special counsel, he’d have to hire a firm on an hourly basis, rather than under a contingency fee agreement like the one approved by the levee authority. The contract between Jones Swanson and the levee authority guarantees the law firm between 22 percent and 33 percent of any financial damages collected. It also includes a “poison pill” provision requiring the payment of expenses and legal fees if the suit is canceled before a court decision or settlement is reached.
Caldwell approved the contract between the levee authority and the Jones Swanson firm in July, saying the contract and fee agreement “conform to Louisiana law and are hereby approved.”
If the LOGA suit were to prevail, it could result in the levee authority contract being declared improperly drawn, which might halt the wetlands suit.
Gladstone Jones, one of the attorneys representing the levee authority during Monday’s hearing, confirmed Clark’s issuance of the bench warrant for Briggs.
“Mr. Briggs apparently got anxiety after his deposition last Thursday and got so ill that he can’t prosecute the case he filed against the attorney general that’s challenging the authority of SLFPA-E to file the suit,” Jones said. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
A transcript of that deposition, entered into evidence Monday, indicates that Briggs was repeatedly asked what proof he had that the levee authority lawsuit would cause oil and gas companies to abandon the state.
“Do you have any evidence that any oil company considers Louisiana’s legal climate in deciding whether they will drill for oil and gas in Louisiana,” asked attorney Rock Palermo, who represents the levee authority.
“No,” Briggs responded, according to the deposition’s transcript.
“Is it your opinion that oil and gas companies are leaving Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?” Palermo asked.
“Yes,” Briggs said.
“Which oil companies have left Louisiana because of lawsuits,” Palermo asked.
“I don’t know,” Briggs answered.
“Do you have any facts or data to support your opinion?” Palermo asked.
“No,” Briggs said.
Palermo later asked for the name of any oil company that has refused to do business in the state because of the suits.
“I don’t know any,” Briggs said.
Briggs was also asked, “You can’t name a single company that has not drilled because of the lawsuits?”
“No,” Briggs said.
An earlier version of this story said that Don Briggs was in his Baton Rouge office on Monday. Gifford Briggs, his son, said that it was he who was in the office, and a secretary had confused him with his father in responding to a reporter’s question.