[UPDATE: Despite a report in Tuesday's Advertiser, in which Don Briggs confirmed he would be in court today, the LOGA chief did not appear. He did, however, submit more information on his medical condition, according to sources involved in the litigation. Additionally, court reporter Lori Achee tells ABiz that District Judge Janice Clark did not issue a bench warrant for Briggs' arrest Monday, as has been widely reported, though Achee could not say what action the judge took or whether she threatened to have Briggs arrested if he did not show up today. "All I can tell you is that the bench warrant wasn't issued," she says. "She just said that we would reconvene today." Achee says she has not finished minute entries from yesterday or today and therefore could not say specifically what the judge said in court. "I can tell you that court will reconvene on March 10 at 9:30, and she did order that all subpoenas remain outstanding. I do have that noted for my minutes. So in other words, the subpoena will be outstanding, whether it's Mr. Briggs or whoever." Ashee says her transcripts should be completed by the end of the week; we will update this story as more information becomes available.]
Don Briggs is not going to jail. Rather, he has decided to show up in court today.
Citing an existing health problem exacerbated by a contentious deposition last week, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs was a no-show Monday in Baton Rouge District Court, where his trade group is challenging Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s decision that a New Orleans area levee board’s lawsuit against 97 oil companies for wetlands damage conforms to state law. LOGA wants the court to rule that the AG improperly approved the contract with the law firm of Jones Swanson Huddell & Garrison and is also seeking an injunction rescinding the approval.
19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark was not pleased that Briggs, who was subpoenaed, failed to show up — and Clark was not buying his health argument. She ordered him to appear today or face jail for contempt, attorneys present at the hearing told The Times-Picayune. (An earlier version of this story stated that Clark issued a bench warrant, but the court reporter tells ABiz none was issued.)
E. Wade Shows, who represents the AG’s office, told The T-P that LOGA’s attorney submitted a note from a Lafayette doctor expressing concerns about Briggs appearing in court.
“She then called the doctor on the phone and went over what the letter said and said she could allay his concerns about his ability to handle the situation,” Shows said. “At that point, (Briggs) apparently went to another doctor. The second doctor didn’t write a letter, but called and left a message with Mr. Briggs’ attorney, and she was not satisfied with the doctor’s call.”
In a story published Tuesday, The Daily Advertiser reported that Briggs confirmed Monday night that he will be in court today (the story was posted online Monday evening). LOGA also issued a statement Monday night about Briggs’ health, noting that the Feb. 20 deposition (one that could be disastrous to his argument against the levee board suit) had aggravated an existing heart condition, preventing him from appearing in court:
As a result of this deposition, Mr. Briggs’ preexisting heart issue was aggravated. Mr. Briggs was subpoenaed to appear in court today, February 24, 2014, to further discuss the ongoing case. His physician advised that he not continue with further examination by the court so as to not further damage his health. Mr. Briggs’ doctor provided correspondence and notice to the court, indicating that his health may be jeopardized if he appeared.
What neither that statement nor the Advertiser revealed, however, is why the deposition was so upsetting to Briggs, who is a citizen member of the Advertiser’s editorial board — which makes the daily's omission about the particulars of the deposition all the more suspect.
|Gladstone Jones III|
“Mr. Briggs apparently got anxiety after his deposition last Thursday and got so ill that he can’t prosecute the case he filed against the attorney general that’s challenging the authority of [the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East] to file the suit,” Gladstone Jones III, one of the attorneys representing the levee authority, told the T-P. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
In the deposition, Briggs was forced to admit his long-held position that lawsuits and greedy trial lawyers have oil companies leaving the state or not doing business here, subsequently costing Louisiana millions in lost tax revenues and numerous jobs — a point he argues publicly at every opportunity — is, well, a fabrication.
The T-P reported Monday night:
A transcript of that deposition, entered into evidence Monday, indicates that Briggs was repeatedly asked what proof he had that the levee authority lawsuit would cause oil and gas companies to abandon the state.
“Do you have any evidence that any oil company considers Louisiana’s legal climate in deciding whether they will drill for oil and gas in Louisiana,” asked attorney Rock Palermo, who represents the levee authority.
“No,” Briggs responded, according to the deposition’s transcript.
“Is it your opinion that oil and gas companies are leaving Louisiana because of the threat of lawsuits?” Palermo asked.
“Yes,” Briggs said.
“Which oil companies have left Louisiana because of lawsuits,” Palermo asked.
“I don’t know,” Briggs answered.
“Do you have any facts or data to support your opinion?” Palermo asked.
“No,” Briggs said.
Palermo later asked for the name of any oil company that has refused to do business in the state because of the suits.
“I don’t know any,” Briggs said.
Briggs was also asked, “You can’t name a single company that has not drilled because of the lawsuits?”
“No,” Briggs said.
In its statement, LOGA said it will release more information on Briggs' health today; check back with ABiz for more on the story.
Read last night's breaking T-P story here.