Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"LUS says court ‘tilted’ law against cities"

The Advocate headline says it all: "LUS says court ‘tilted’ law against cities." That's pretty much the whole story. Recent briefs filed with the Louisiana Supreme Cout argue that the third circuit has erred by taking a compromise and transforming it into a tool that the incumbents can use to block implementation of the plan the voters called for in July more than a year ago. That transformation involves ignoring the written intent of the law and the context in which it was passed. From the story:

This summer, the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal put a stop to LUS’ plans, saying the method that LUS planned to use to pay back up to $125 million in communications bonds violated the so-called Local Government Fair Competition Act.

That law was passed in 2004 at the behest of the telecommunications industry as a way to ensure a “level playing field” between privately owned and publicly owned communications businesses.

But the 3rd Circuit ignored the Legislature’s intent and is “interpreting the law so as to tilt the ‘level playing field’ against local governments,” LUS argues in a brief filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Laws usually have preamble sections that establish the purpose of the law and detail its intended effects and the (un)Fair Act has an extensive section that lays that out. This section is often ignored as window dressing by lawyers and courts but has a serious and essential role in determining "intent." Legal interpretation is at least as difficult as every day interpretation--and determining what a sentence should be understood to mean often depends on hearing it with ear for the context and the intent of the speaker.

"Legislative intent" is the label given this legal principle but, as commonsensical as it may seem when that intent is written into the law, other theories of legal meaning that revolve around a literal reading of the text that is informed by nothing outside the text are often opposed to it. (If you see an echo of arguments over Biblical interpretation I'd say you are most likely seeing a similar pattern.) So, in the end, Lafayette's future may well come down to which camp on the arcane topic of theories of legal meaning a few men on the State Supreme Court belong.


As lagniappe:

As readers may recall these pages have always been adamantly of the opinion that the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act is...unfair. It is bad for Lafayette and local governments that might want to follow in its footsteps. Mike Stagg, my partner here, went down and testified against it in the legislature when the official line was that this was a "good compromise." The Louisiana Supreme Court is the last hurrah for the interpretation that the law is reasonably understood as a fair compromise of any sort. Being right on this will be cold comfort. I'd much rather we were wrong.....

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