BY RICHARD THOMPSON
Jefferson Parish public school teachers may be getting cash bonuses. New Orleans — if one councilwoman has her way — will be paving more of its famously pockmarked streets. Coastal restoration efforts of various kinds will get a shot in the arm.
The $18.7 billion that BP is shelling out to settle government claims over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster will be a boon to many.
But first, the lawyers will take their cut.
Dozens of attorneys have been negotiating with BP on behalf of state and local governments through five years of complicated litigation. They will reap some of the windfall.
In Louisiana, which will get $6.8 billion of the overall settlement, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has spent $38.5 million on nearly a dozen law firms.
Moreover, local agencies in southern Louisiana such as parish governments, cities and school boards stand to receive another $400 million — and about a quarter of that cash likely will to go to lawyers’ fees. The money will arrive over the next few weeks, after a federal judge late last month announced — not surprisingly — that the “vast majority” of the local agencies had accepted BP’s settlement offers and that the oil giant had given the deal its blessing.
In addition, all of those lawyers had the benefit of extensive legal work already done by a steering committee of court-appointed lawyers — some of them from Louisiana — who are in line to receive as much as $600 million, though that is not part of the $18.7 billion settlement.
Whether the money spent by Caldwell’s office on outside lawyers was necessary to win Louisiana’s share of the proceeds remains up for debate. But it’s not the first time Caldwell has caught criticism for doling out work to other attorneys — many of whom have padded his campaign coffers — rather than sticking with in-house counsel.
Eight of the law firms working for Caldwell on the BP litigation have been among his political contributors, according to one legal watchdog.
“Not to suggest that anybody who contributes to the attorney general should be disqualified from practicing on behalf of the state,” said Melissa Landry, executive director of the nonprofit Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. “But the fact that eight have (made contributions) suggests that there are factors other than their experience and expertise that are influencing those decisions.”
The Attorney General’s Office denies any favoritism. In an email, Caldwell’s spokesman, Aaron Sadler, said: “The attorneys selected by our office were chosen based on their qualifications, experience in complex litigation and their proven credentials for excellent results, which is completely consistent with Louisiana law regarding retention of persons or firms to perform professional legal services.”
Value for money?
Sorting out whether the state got what it paid for is complicated. Only Florida spent more money on lawyers to corral its portion of the BP settlement. Alabama and Texas spent nothing on outside attorneys to handle their economic claims, officials said.
On the other hand, Louisiana also will receive the biggest payout. Florida will get $3.25 billion; Alabama, $2.3 billion; Mississippi, $2.2 billion; and Texas, $788 million.
Sadler, the attorney general’s spokesman, said Louisiana simply needed more representation than the other states. “Mississippi and Texas had far less complicated and comprehensive claims than Louisiana, and they recovered far less,” he said.
Still, others believe Caldwell could have gotten the job done with less hired help.
“The BP case certainly presented a host of novel and difficult environmental law issues, so it would be the type of case where I would think hiring outside counsel would be appropriate,” Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino said. “But do we need that many lawyers?”
Ciolino noted that much of the legal work on the case — including more than 300 depositions — was done by a group of lawyers appointed by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to spearhead the litigation on behalf of all plaintiffs. BP agreed to pay that group — mostly lawyers from Gulf Coast states, a few from Louisiana — up to $600 million.
Those lawyers handled much of the first phase of the civil trial against BP over liability and damages. They also drafted a 192-page master lawsuit laying the groundwork for more than 500 local government complaints that were later filed against BP.
Given the group’s contributions, Ciolino said, it’s hard to imagine why Louisiana needed so many additional lawyers. “A lot of people are going to get paid a lot of money for sitting around and watching other lawyers work,” he said.
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|May 9, 2016, 9:02 am|
Despite the $20 billion settlement BP PLC struck with the U.S. Department of Justice over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, tens of thousands of lawsuits could hit the courts this month, adding to the oil company’s ballooning costs.
|May 2, 2016, 6:22 pm|
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|April 27, 2016, 8:57 am|
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|April 20, 2016, 8:33 am|
With the enormous number of BP Oil Spill victims still waiting for resolution of their claims, BCA is providing this status update as a “reality check” of where are we now. Brent Coon’s comments and the link to the 2 minute video are below.
|April 19, 2016, 9:28 am|
Beaumont attorney Brent Coon said it was appropriate for him to host a press conference at his law office on April 15, the traditional tax day.
|April 18, 2016, 9:19 am|
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