NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers for the levee board suing oil and gas companies over coastal land loss offered to reduce their fees Tuesday if any of the 97 defendants settle, but the Jindal administration called the offer empty rhetoric.
Glad Jones, the lead attorney hired by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, said his law firm would accept mutually agreed upon or arbitrated fees from any defendant who comes to the table and settles the lawsuit within six months.
The industry did not see Jones' offer as a worthy olive branch.
"If these attorneys are truly concerned for the citizens and taxpayers of Louisiana, then they will do what's right for the people and dismiss this suit altogether," said Don Briggs, head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
Neither did Gov. Bobby Jindal's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
This 'offer' misses the most important point of the opposition to the SLFPA-E’s lawsuit: Neither the SLFPA-E nor its attorneys have authority to prosecute a lawsuit or to negotiate a settlement to remedy the 'land loss crisis facing coastal Louisiana,'" said Jerome Zeringue, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities. "The board’s overreach of authority and its lawyers’ efforts to legitimize a fee agreement that is against public policy have gone on too long. The contract should be canceled, the lawsuit should be dismissed, and the board should return its attention to the important functions within its jurisdiction."
Jindal and several legislators argue the lawsuit is counterproductive and a money-grab by Jones. Bills by Sen. Robert Adley, a former gas company executive, propose making the pending levee board lawsuit illegal, as well as dialing back reforms instituted after Hurricane Katrina to make levee boards less political.
Jones claimed his offer to reduce fees puts the ball in the oil companies’ court. The offer is likely to be a major savings from the current arrangement, which would pay the Jones Swanson firm a contingency fee of 22-33 percent of damages and a hefty fee for services rendered if the lawsuit is cancelled.