Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pelican State Attorneys Thrive ...


From Trial Lawyers Inc., December 2008:

The troubled state of Louisiana has lost 200,000 residents in the years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. But the state had been having a hard time attracting workers and others, as well as holding on to those it had, even before the hurricane struck. While the national trend in population growth in the previous five years was 4.6 percent, Louisiana grew by only 0.6 percent in that period. Even so, one segment of the population—trial lawyers—is finding the state to be an excellent place to hang out and do business. Long a lawsuit-friendly jurisdiction, Louisiana has become a magnet for mass tort lawyers squeezed by comprehensive tort reform in neighboring states such as Texas and Mississippi.

That plaintiffs' lawyers would find the Bayou State a good place to sue is unsurprising. In a 2008 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, corporate litigators ranked the fairness of Louisiana's judicial system next-to-last among the fifty states. The state ranked among the bottom three in every category surveyed, and Louisiana was deemed the worst state in the nation in its treatment of scientific and technical evidence, its timeliness in granting or denying summary judgment or dismissal, its discovery process, and its judges' competence. Orleans Parish, encompassing the city of New Orleans, has regularly been dubbed a "judicial hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Association, and it was ranked the ninth-worst local jurisdiction in the country.

Louisiana's hospitability to litigation is an impediment to its economic recovery: 64 percent of business leaders around the country surveyed by Harris said that a state's litigation climate would affect their decision on where to locate a business. If Louisiana's leaders want to resuscitate their state's fortunes, then cleaning up its system of civil justice would be a good place to start.

A UNIQUE LEGAL SYSTEM

Owing to its pre-1803 history as a French colony, Louisiana—alone among the fifty states—has a French-derived "civil law" tradition rather than a British-derived system of "common law." Consequently, all causes of action in Louisiana are based in the Louisiana Civil Code; in theory, at least, Louisiana's judges do not make law. Unfortunately, Louisiana's exceptionality does not extend to European-style constraints on litigation, such as "loser pays" fee-shifting rules and prohibitions against contingent fees and class actions.

In contrast to judges in common-law states, who typically show substantial deference to previous court decisions, Louisiana's judges are supposed to work from a "direct interpretation" of the code. While such a legal approach would seem to support legislative supremacy and judicial restraint, open-ended or ambiguous statutes have invited a wider scope of judicial interpretation and disregard for judicial predecessors' rulings.

Signature

jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Which state is more crooked?


We decided to re-visit the political corruption issue that was opened last week. Today's discussion is from a different perspective and uses different sources, so you may see some discrepancies in the statistics. This is excerpted from an article by Jacob Weisberg for Slate Magazine

With the unmasking of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (see illustration) as a kleptocrat of Paraguayan proportion, Illinois now has a real chance—its first in more than a generation—to defeat Louisiana in the NCAA finals of American political corruption.

Illinois boasts some impressive stats. According to data collected by Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, more than 1,000 public officials and business people from Illinois have been convicted in federal corruption cases since 1971. Of those, an astonishing 30 were Chicago aldermen; that's around 20 percent of those elected to the City Council during that period.

If Blagojevich ultimately goes to prison, he will become the fourth out of the last eight governors to wear stripes, joining predecessors George Ryan (racketeering, conspiracy, obstruction), Dan Walker (bank fraud), and Otto Kerner (straight-up bribery). If he gets assigned to the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., Blagojevich could become the first governor to share a cell with a predecessor he defeated at the polls.

But don't count Louisiana out. According to statistics compiled by the Corporate Crime Reporter, it was No. 1 for the period between 1997 and 2006, with 326 federal corruption convictions. That's a rate of 7.67 per 100,000 residents. Illinois had 524convictions in the same period, but with a larger population, its rate was only 4.68, which puts it an embarrassing sixth.

And Louisiana can boast some impressive streaks. In 2001 Jim Brown became the third consecutive insurance commissioner to be convicted. New Orleans Rep. William Jefferson, who was just defeated for re-election, liked cold, hard cash so much he kept the bundles of bills supplied by a FBI sting operation in his freezer. His brother, sister, and niece recently joined him under indictment.

Wayne Parent, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University, explains that with the discovery of oil and gas around 1912, politicians in the dirt-poor state suddenly controlled a gold mine in tax revenues. "They could spend this money virtually unsupervised," he says, "as long as they threw enough crumbs to the masses to satisfy them—direct, tangible goods like free textbooks and paved roads." This was the formula of populist governors Huey Long, his brother Earl Long, and Edwin Edwards. Louisiana politicians have always liked big bribes for big projects better than crooked little schemes. Edwards, for instance, is serving time for collecting a $400,000 gratuity in exchange for a casino license.

Louisiana's culture of corruption, by contrast, is flamboyant and shameless. Earl Long once said that Louisiana voters "don't want good government, they want good entertainment." He spent part of his last term in a mental hospital, where his wife had him committed after he took up with stripper Blaze Starr. When Sen. Allen Ellender died in office in 1972, Gov. Edwards didn't try to auction of his seat. He appointed his wife, Elaine, possibly to get her out of town.

When Edwards ran for governor in 1983, he said of the incumbent, "If we don't get Dave Treen out of office, there won't be anything left to steal." (He also memorably said Treen was so slow it took him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.) Raised among figures like these, Louisianans tend to accept corruption as inevitable, to be somewhat proud of it, and to forgive it easily.

It's going to be a close contest again this year, but I'm betting on the Fighting Illini to claim the national championship.

Signature

jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

And the most corrupt state is …


From an article by John Fritze, USA TODAY:

Its largest city is legendary for machine-style politics and its elected leaders have been under investigation for years, but by one measure, Illinois is not even close to the nation's most-corrupt state.

North Dakota, it turns out, may hold that distinction instead.

Federal authorities recently arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (pictured) after a wiretap allegedly recorded him scheming to make money on his appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich, a Democrat, ran for election in part on cleaning up after his predecessor, Republican George Ryan, who was convicted in 2006 of racketeering, bribery and extortion.

"If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States it's certainly one hell of a competitor," Robert Grant, head of the FBI's Chicago office, said Tuesday.

On a per-capita basis, however, Illinois ranks 18th for the number of public corruption convictions the federal government has won from 1998 through 2007, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Department of Justice statistics.

Louisiana (only third!), Alaska and North Dakota all fared worse than the Land of Lincoln in that analysis.

Alaska narrowly ousted Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in the election in November after he was convicted of not reporting gifts from wealthy friends. In Louisiana, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson was indicted in 2007 on racketeering and bribery charges after the FBI said it found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer. Jefferson, who has maintained his innocence and will soon go to trial, lost his seat to a Republican this year.

But North Dakota?

Don Morrison, executive director of the non-partisan North Dakota Center for the Public Good, said it may be that North Dakotans are better at rooting out corruption when it occurs.

"Being a sparsely populated state, people know each other," he said. "We know our elected officials and so certainly to do what the governor of Illinois did is much more difficult here."

Morrison said the state has encouraged bad government practices in some cases by weakening disclosure laws. North Dakota does not require legislative or statewide candidates to disclose their campaign expenses.

The analysis does not include corruption cases handled by state law enforcement and it considers only convictions. Corruption may run more rampant in some states but go undetected.

Michael Johnston is a political science professor at Colgate University in New York, which is ranked just after Illinois for corruption convictions. Johnston, who has studied political corruption for 30 years, said places such as Illinois gain a bad reputation that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Expectations build up … and you replicate those expectations when you get to the top of the ladder," Johnston said. "It gets repeated."

Signature

jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

You Tube and New Orleans ...


I wasn't aware of how many videos on YouTube are by New Orleanians, and by others celebrating New Orleans, until an old college friend of mine suggested I take a look at a 1940's travelogue of the city. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyf0K28r8So.

While there I found some other historical videos, on topics such as:

Mardi Gras 1941, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppTjgLiWi0s&feature=related.

Spring Fiesta 1944, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXcOwwMkma0&feature=related.

Mardi Gras 1954, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmTmcyRZPLQ&feature=related.

New Orleans in the 70’s, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agVkrc6Y-_I&feature=related.

Old New Orleans, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTh9zANZ5gg&feature=related and, with the same title http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mJLIeYwte8&feature=related.

View at your own risk.

Signature

jbv's Competitive Edge