HIGH STAKES BEFORE THE HIGH COURT

Published: Wednesday, June 23, 1993
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B7
Column: James Gill
Type: OPINION
Byline: By James Gill

Text:

C.B. Forgotston, he of the unforgettable name, is both a lawyer and a lobbyist, which, as he is fond of pointing out himself, makes him doubly damned in the public estimation.

To make matters worse, legislators say they admire his grasp of the Louisiana system, its plots and strategems.

With that build-up, it might seem best to keep your hand on your wallet if Forgotston ever comes calling.

Not so. In fact, he is a relentless critic of sleaze, which he seems to find everywhere in the course of his daily round. The result is the most advanced case of cynicism yet discovered in Louisiana public life.

Nothing wrong with that, of course; it is better to be a cynic than a sucker any day. In Louisiana cynic is often just another word for realist.

As spokesman for the anti-casino forces, who had what was probably their last hurrah at the state Supreme Court Monday, Forgotston has not been inclined to mince his words.

The justices are at the mercy of politicians, Gov. Edwards in particular, and will choose expediency over legal principle when ruling on the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the casino legislation, he has repeatedly averred.

Monday's hearing was something of a charade, Forgotston suggested, because the justices "have their collective mind made up."

Publicly badmouthing Supreme Court justices is not a sport in which many lawyers indulge, but Forgotston is so keen to raise the temperature that he becomes reckless. Maybe it's a scheme to goad the court into voting the plaintiffs' way to demonstrate its political independence, although whether justices are that jealous of their reputations is open to doubt.

To judge from public utterances on both sides, the expectation is that the court will uphold the legislation and do so before July 15, when the casino board is due to award the operating license to the politicians's darling, HemmeterCaesars.

Correction. When the casino board is due to complete its agonizing deliberations and choose between Hemmeter and his rivals.

Further correction. Between Hemmeter and his rival. Only one company thought there was any point in putting in a bid against Hemmeter.

That the courts, even the U.S. Supremes, can be swayed by political considerations is obvious and not necessarily sinister.

The courts may be at their most sensitive to outside influence when to rule one way would bring great turmoil. Such would certainly be the result should the court decide, say, that the Legislature exceeded its authority by enacting the casino law off its own bat, instead of submitting a constitutional amendment for popular vote.

It is hard to imagine that the court would invalidate the law now that we are so far down the road to economic revival, or perdition, depending on your point of view.

The Legislature's constitutional mandate to "define and suppress gambling" is not likely to be much of an impediment, although why there should be so much debate about what it means is something of a mystery.

The state argues that it means the Legislature is obligated to ban only what it arbitrarily chooses to define as gambling. It can decide which forms of gambling are legal, and which are illegal, so that it can authorize what it wishes.

If that is the correct reading, the obvious question is why did they bother to mention gambling in the Constitution at all? The Legislature would have had the discretion to legalize whatever it chose were the Constitution silent on the subject. That paragraph in the Constitution is therefore, by the state's argument, entirely pointless.

Obviously, it was not conceived that way. Constitutions are there to impose constraints and, as the use of the word "suppress" makes clear, that is true in spades for the gambling paragraph.

The only possible conclusion from the plethora of gambling around these days is that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional obligation. This will not have come as much of a shock to Forgotston or, indeed, to many citizens who aren't even of a cynical bent.

James Gill is a staff writer.


Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.