Law.com reports Another Federal Judge Recuses From Oil Spill Cases
On Tuesday, another federal judge in New Orleans stepped aside from handling oil spill cases, joining six other colleagues who have recused themselves in recent weeks. That means only five of the 12 available judges in the Eastern District of Louisiana can hear litigation over the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
Judge Eldon Fallon removed himself from oil spill cases on Tuesday because his son-in-law, Camilo Salas III, is an attorney of record in several oil spill cases. Salas of New Orleans-based Salas LC has three such lawsuits pending in the Eastern District of Louisiana. He also has a case in the Middle District of Louisiana and another in the Southern District of Florida.
Salas said he saw no current conflict of interest because none of his cases are in front of his father-in-law. However, he said, if and when the cases are consolidated in a multidistrict litigation down the road, then a conflict could have occurred.
“Chances are that, as long as I’m on the case, he will not be the MDL judge,” Salas said.
Plaintiffs lawyers are also speculating whether Chief Judge Sarah Vance will recuse herself because her husband, Patrick Vance, is the head of litigation at New Orleans’ Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrere & Denegre, which is representing one of the oil spill defendants.
Patrick Vance would not disclose which defendant his firm is representing, saying only that the cases are not before his wife. Vance’s office would not comment on whether she will step down.
“There are rumors that all of the judges [in the Eastern District] may have to recuse themselves,” said Robin Greenwald of the New York office of Weitz & Luxenberg, which has asked the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to name a federal judge from New York to handle the MDL.
Greenwald said Fallon’s departure bolsters her firm’s argument that an outside judge with no ties to the oil industry and with MDL experience should step in — specifically, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has handled an MDL involving drinking water contaminated by a gasoline additive. Oil spill defendant BP PLC was a defendant in the gasoline case too. “We know that she doesn’t have a conflict,” Greenwald said.
Not so in New Orleans, where the following judges in addition to Fallon have recused themselves.
Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan recused herself because her husband owns stock in BP.
Judge Mary Ann Lemmon has recused herself because she owns stock in BP. Her son, Andrew Lemmon of New Orleans’ Lemmon Law Firm, is an environmental attorney, although she said his job has nothing to do with her recusal. Andrew Lemmon said he is preparing to file oil spill lawsuits.
Judge Lance Africk recused himself because his wife’s firm provides legal advice in connection with lawsuits relating to the oil spill. He did not name his wife or her firm.
Judge Jay Zainey recused himself because his son-in-law Kermit (Tre’) Roux III is an equity partner at New Orleans’ Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles, which is defending Cameron International Corp. in the oil spill lawsuits.
Judge Kurt Engelhardt recused himself from a proceeding involving the granting of a protective order because his brother-in-law is with a law firm that represents Cameron. He did not name his brother-in-law or the firm.
Judge Ivan Lemelle recused himself because his wife owns stock in Halliburton Energy Services Inc., another defendant in many of the oil spill suits.
For more coverage, see The National Law Journal‘s Gulf Spill Scorecard.