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Jun 22, 2010 8:21 PM by Chris Welty

Tucker Denies Deliberate Killing of Lawyer Bill

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - House Speaker Jim Tucker said Tuesday
that last-minute haggling over a bill to let the attorney general
use contingency fee contracts for oil spill litigation wasn't
designed to kill the bill, as Senate President Joel Chaisson
contends.
The issue sharply divided the two chambers, with no resolution
as the legislative session ended a day earlier. As the clock wound
down and the bill's fate became clear, Chaisson embarked on a fiery
speech lambasting the House and business lobbyists for jettisoning
the measure.
"The fact that the president would say we delayed this deal ...
is nothing short of balderdash. It's just rubbish," said Tucker,
R-Terrytown. "And for us to be accused of trying to stifle this is
just wrong."
The proposal would have allowed law firms hired by the state to
sue BP PLC or other companies over the Deepwater Horizon explosion
and oil spill to get a percentage of the damage award instead of an
hourly rate.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has argued he needs the ability
to hire outside lawyers on contingency to get the best
representation for the state. Chaisson, D-Destrehan, a lawyer, said
failure to pass the bill puts Louisiana at a disadvantage to all
other Gulf Coast states that can use contingency fee contracts.
With the bill dead, Caldwell's office, the Jindal administration
and lawmakers were considering ways to funnel more money to the
attorney general to help him cover the hourly fees involved in
litigating such a complex case. Caldwell estimated he would need up
to $100 million to pay for the costs of the oil spill lawsuit.
"We will find the money. I'm not concerned about the finding
the $100 million, even in these tough budget years," Tucker said.
Told of the comment after a session in which budget troubles
were a top concern, Chaisson said, "That's amazing that he would
say that."
Chaisson said he was going to ask Gov. Bobby Jindal to call a
special session to reconsider the issue. Jindal had supported the
contingency fee measure, but when asked if he would consider a
special session, he said it was too soon to determine a next step.
Chaisson accused Tucker and House Commerce Committee Chairman
Tim Burns of repeated delays to run out the clock on the session
without a vote on the proposal, calling the men subservient to
"big oil and big business."
"They were doing everything they could to delay this bill so
there wouldn't be a vote," Chaisson said Tuesday, arguing that
each proposed change in the negotiations was run by business
lobbyists on the House side.
Business interests generally oppose legislation allowing
contingency contracts, arguing the arrangements let lawyers get too
big a share of money that should be going to the state and claiming
the contracts encourage more lawsuits because of the huge potential
payoffs.
Tucker said Chaisson made a tactical error in waiting until late
in the final day to try to work out an agreement and in starting
negotiations with a proposal completely different than what the
House wanted.
"It became a greedy bill, and we were not going to pass a
greedy bill because that was not what was in the best interest of
the people of this state," Tucker said.
Chaisson said he agreed to several provisions sought by the
House to address their concerns about the payouts possible to
attorneys under the bill.
As originally proposed and passed by the Senate, Caldwell would
have been given the authority to use contingency fee contracts to
hire outside lawyers in a large range of cases, but the House
limited the bill only to the oil spill. As it emerged on the final
day, the contingency payments also would have been capped at $100
million for the case.

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