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Controversial lawsuit leaves taxpayers on the hook for more than $642,000

Once again, the scheming legal team hired by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East to pursue its unprecedented lawsuit against energy producers is turning to the courts in a blatant attempt to overturn the Legislature, the Governor and the will of the people.

In its latest legal maneuver, lawyers for the regional flood authority hijacked an ongoing case, which was tangentially related, at best, and asked a friendly judge to rule in their favor. At issue is a new state law, known as Act 544, which effectively bars the authority from filing lawsuits without legislative approval. After hours of extensive debate, the Legislature passed the law, which was signed by Governor Jindal and became Act 544, earlier this summer.

Since then, the authority’s legal team has filed legal challenges in federal and state court in an attempt to save its case, which now seems to be on life-support.

On Monday, 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark was the first to weigh in on the legal debate, and not surprisingly she sided with trial lawyers for the flood authority, ruling that the new law does not apply to SLFPA-E because it is neither a state agency nor a local government. Clark’s ruling on the technicality comes in spite of hours of legislative debate, which make it abundantly clear that legislators supporting the law directed it specifically at the regional flood authority’s lawsuit. Nevertheless, Clark said, “It appears to this court that (the Flood Protection Authority) was designed to be a unique entity, neither fish nor fowl. It’s an entity with its own particular powers.” Apparently, in Clark’s view, these “particular powers” supersede that of the Legislature?

We may never truly understand the judge’s rationale, but the confusion doesn’t end there. Clark also hinted that she’s prepared to rule the entire Act unconstitutional, based on the trial lawyer’s arguments that Act 544 usurped the power of the judiciary, but she did not issue a final ruling.

Likely, the effect of Clark’s ruling will be minimal, at best. Enough questions were raised in this heavy-handed hearing that these issues will almost certainly be reconsidered in state court on appeal. In addition, a federal court is scheduled to consider similar arguments in November.

Unfortunately, this ongoing legal battle will come at a tremendous cost, and taxpayers will be left holding the bag. According to a recent Times Picayune report, the East bank levee authority’s environmental damages suit has already produced $642,000 in legal expenses, $1.2 million in “political costs.” Without a doubt, this new legal fight will only further increase taxpayer costs.

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