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Louisiana trial lawyers are clashing with the business community over a proposed law that would allow the state’s attorney general to hire contingency counsel to fight some of the Bayou State’s more complex and costly battles. Louisiana and Wisconsin are the only two states whose attorneys general may not hire outside lawyers on a contingency-fee basis to do the state’s legal work. The current bill, which may be voted on as early as this week, includes a 25% cap on contingency fees, which courts can reduce, an affidavit detailing a contracting firm’s expenses, and a ban on the attorney general from hiring anyone who made a campaign contribution after the law’s July 1, 2006, effective date. The business community-working with national, state and local chambers of commerce-alleges that in Louisiana and other states, pro-plaintiff attorneys general hire their friends and campaign contributors to attack business and industry with nuisance litigation. But the plaintiffs’ bar contends that at a time when state government is downsizing itself and deregulating business and industry, attorneys general must have the option of hiring seasoned outside counsel to help enforce the law, particularly in complex litigation against major corporations. Also, when states do not let their attorneys general hire private counsel, they miss out on the mass action recoveries that other states get, noted J. Burton LeBlanc IV, a principal at LeBlanc & Waddell in Baton Rouge, La., and president-elect of Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association. As an example, he pointed to a massive class action consolidated in Boston federal court, which alleges that drug manufacturers’ overstatements of average wholesale drug prices improperly inflates the reimbursement paid by Medicare beneficiaries, insurers and state Medicaid programs to health care providers who prescribed and administered the drugs. But Ginger Sawyer, vice president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said that the state already had seen enough “bounty hunting” by the time the state Supreme Court held that the attorney general may not enter into contingency-fee agreements without legislative authorization. Meredith v. Ieyoub, 700 So. 2d 478 (La. 1997). The office of Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. did not return calls for comment.

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