A Slight Disagreement with Rep. Chuck Owen

   

By: Lensey Goodman

I want to start by saying that I have the utmost respect for Representative Chuck Owen. He is a staunch conservative and has championed free markets, lower taxes, and individual liberty. When I first read his article, How We Can REALLY Change Louisiana (Pt 1), I was excited. I believe this is exactly the mandate the people of Louisiana have been demanding for decades, REAL change. As I read through his article, I completely agreed with his statements regarding the need to have everything on the table, and the need to deal with the “sacred cows” of Louisiana. That is until I saw the one “sacred cow” that Representative Owen said was not up for consideration, lawyers. He said that the law in Louisiana is so unique, “We just can’t go there.” I couldn’t disagree more. Everything should be on the table including lawyers and the legal structure of the state. If legislators are going to truly reform Louisiana, they need to also look at judicial/legal reform. Let me explain.

Yes, Louisiana does have a unique legal system based on the Napoleonic Code, not common law (principles of law passed down over hundreds of years). Still, the differences between Louisiana and other states have been shrinking with Louisiana’s legal structure becoming more and more like other states. We can no longer claim that Louisiana is so different that we can’t operate like other, more successful states. Nearly 70% of what is taught in Louisiana Law Schools is the same as out-of-state law schools.

Another point made in the article is that we should be more like Arizona. Rep. Owen references Arizona and their lax licensing requirements as a measure that has led to their state being flooded with professionals and craftsmen. However, Arizona also became the first in the nation to allow non-lawyers to open law firms resulting in tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in the state. I’m not saying this is the answer, but it only proves the point that when we relax licensing requirements, even in the legal profession, business booms.

Here are 3 areas of Louisiana Legal Reform legislators should consider:

  1. Reduce the number of law schools or have one of our law schools prepare students for the UBE (Uniform Bar Exam)

Louisiana has a population of roughly 4.6 million people with effectively 5 law schools throughout the state. In comparison, Mississippi has a population of 3 million people but only has 2 law schools. South Carolina has a population of 5.1 million people and still only has 2 law schools. Louisiana ranks 10th in the nation for lawyers per capita. Additionally, Louisiana makes it very difficult for its lawyers to leave the state. That’s because we don’t prepare students for the UBE (Uniform Bar Exam) giving them immediate access to practice in 41 states. Such a high number of lawyers who can only practice law in Louisiana breeds desperation and creates a more litigious society.

  1. Reduce the number of appellate judges in the state.

Again, Louisiana has no shortage of legal representation. This time at the Louisiana Circuit Court of Appeals with 53 elected justices. Our neighbor to the East, Mississippi, has only 10 appeals judges.

  1. Re-draw the JDC (Judicial District Court) Line or Consolidate some of the different JDCs

Simply put, with outmigration and rural areas losing population, we have too many courthouses and too many JDCs. For example, Cameron Parish has a population of roughly 5,000 people but has its own JDC with judges, staff, and the expenses that go along with them. Plaquemines Parish Court House is constitutionally protected and must stay in Pointe a la Hache, miles and miles away from a gas station or store. Their legal records can’t even be stored at the courthouse, so they purchased an annex. Did I mention that Plaquemines Parish, with its population more than an hour away from the courthouse, also is its own JDC and hasn’t been consolidated with any other JDC? Louisiana Association of Business and Industry published a study on this a few years ago which can be found here.

While none of these reforms would be easy, it is incumbent upon our legislators to consider all areas without exclusion. If Louisiana is getting rid of its “sacred cows” as Rep. Owen says, we can’t keep one out back in the pasture.

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