Bum steer – Barbier adds goverment liasions to Steering Committee but denies motion for special government track in oil spill litigation

Oil and water don’t mix – and, apparently,federal and state Attorneys General feel likewise about having their claims overseen by the “big money pot in the little one” Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee appointed by Judge Barbier.

Rebecca Mowbray reports one chapter of the story in the Money section of today’s Times-Picayune:

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier told participants in the BP oil spill litigation Friday that he wasn’t trying to deny the state of Louisiana a voice in the proceedings when he rejected a motion for a special government track Thursday. He’s just trying to make the litigation more efficient, Barbier said…

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell…[a]Appearing at his first monthly oil spill status conference Friday morning, Caldwell said he wasn’t reassured by what Barbier said and is evaluating the state’s legal options.

“The state’s claims are still subject to the plaintiffs steering committee,” Caldwell said, noting that Barbier also didn’t rule on Louisiana’s request to bar private attorneys from sharing any proceeds ultimately due to the state. With Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg settling claims and removing plaintiffs from the litigation, the concern is that public recoveries could become the deepest pockets in the litigation, and that governmental bodies could be forced to share if they’re operating under the auspices of the plaintiffs committee.

Meanwhile, Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood wants Barbier to take control of the claims process:

“I want Mr. Feinberg to continue paying claims, but I want the process to be transparent, fair and fast,” Hood said in a written statement. “If the court does not take control, we will be sending Mr. Feinberg a civil investigative demand which will inevitably lead to needless litigation and expense.”Hood said the current claims process may be taking advantage of Mississippians looking to recoup lost revenue. He wants to determine whether the statistics being provided are accurate and claims are being distribute fairly.

Hood’s concern surfaced earlier in the month when the Clarion-Ledger reported,  “A large Jackson law firm that counts BP among its clients is now assisting those injured by the spill as they seek payments from the oil giant“.

Ed Brunini, a senior partner at Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, said there is an ethical wall between the work the firm has done on behalf of BP and that it is doing for Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

According to the Clarion-Ledger story, it appears “some claimants, Gulf Coast legislators and the attorney general” may believe the ethical wall has a crack.  Perhaps some have similar concerns about the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.

Mowbray, however, reports that Barbie, “said several times Friday that his primary concern is keeping the massive consolidated case, easily the largest ever in Louisiana, moving at an efficient clip”:

A maritime trial known as a “limitation of liability” proceeding is scheduled for Feb. 27, 2012 — the Monday after Mardi Gras — and will determine the proportion of fault in the explosion and subsequent 86-day oil release. To stay on schedule, all depositions in the case are required to be completed in July.

The notion of a “government track” is a nonstarter for the court because the government would be in charge of its own depositions schedules, and witnesses would end up being deposed twice, making it almost impossible for depositions to be completed on time. To make sure that all parties have enough time for their questions, Barbier said Friday that each deposition jointly scheduled by the plaintiff and defense committees that are managing the litigation could last as long as 15 hours instead of eight hours. “The primary reason I did this was to try to accommodate the government interests,” Barbier said.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was chosen as the “coordinating counsel for state interests” because Alabama is the only state that filed its own lawsuit in the litigation rather than Louisiana’s more limited “declaratory action” against Transocean, leaving open the possibility that Louisiana could be thinking about pursuing broader claims in state court. Strange’s appointment also lends geographic and political diversity to the committee of plaintiff attorneys in the litigation, which is heavily tilted toward Louisiana. It also puts an actual attorney general in the litigation, while Louisiana had suggested Allan Kanner, an environmental and mass action attorney who is serving as Caldwell’s special counsel in the spill litigation.

As for the concern about private plaintiff attorneys raiding state financial recoveries, it’s simply too early to tell who’s going to be doing the heavy lifting in the litigation. Once the case moves into the damages phase, there are opportunities to affirm the sovereignty of states participating in the litigation and their rights to pursue cases as they see fit. “I realize there may be divergence down the line,” Barbier said.

Adding a bit of irony to the mix, the Clarion-Ledger quoted Alabama, Sen. Richard Shelby,who never met an insurance company he didn’t like, is concerned about oil spill claims:

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby,who has met with Feinberg several times, said the claims facility “is not acting with appropriate urgency.  Nine months since the oil spill, 57 percent of claims in Alabama remain unpaid,” Shelby said. “This amounts to 38,604 individual and business claims that have not received one penny in funding. That is a startling statistic.”

Senator Shelby’s concern is startling as well; but, somehow I feel there may be many more startling moments as the oil spill litigation moves forward.

8 thoughts on “Bum steer – Barbier adds goverment liasions to Steering Committee but denies motion for special government track in oil spill litigation”

  1. I’ve been victimized by everyone of these ass-h*les including this judge and AG’s from Louisiana and Mississippi. Plaintiffs beware if BP makes a decent offer to you, take it. Goggle it, it’s been over 12 years since my family’s Marie V. Vicksburg 251-98-1061 Hinds county claims were settled and over 15 years since our home was destroyed and we were left for dead. At present the court plays their broken record of claiming to dismiss us per the attorney class-action in 1996 and the feds are giving protection to this action. To this day that’s the only action the court speaks of. I recently called to inquire about the pending 251-98-1061 claims and all I got was a letter of a broken record. New judge, same old song.

    In mid December of 1996 my wife gave a deposition under Mc Kenna, 251-96-493 we were told afterwards we would be getting money for that, it never happened. But you should have seen all the new BMW’s each and every lawyer had soon after. A December 1996 action dismissed in 1996, no way this could be, not with the intentional drag ass attorneys of a class-action.

    Never mind the $ 84 million settled on me alone in 1998 two years after their claimed dismissal or the fact that after the jury trial in 1999 failed to show injuries to anyone else and all awards in 1999 totaling a known $330 million with documents seeking $ 2 billion which whatever it was had, were placed on my family of three. They have been passing our awards around from one judge to another like a whore and guess who getting fu^ked.

    The recent letter I’ve recieved and posted looks just like the one wrote back when attorneys didn’t want us around and had thrown us in jail etc,etc. Back before Vicksburg made their offer for $84 mil. and the court needed a real claim. Apparrently our claims were just moved to another judge, how do I know? Everytime before this happens our daughter is taken into custody by the state. Sure enough she’s in jail and you should see the letter, I shit you not. http://www.classvictim.wordpress.com

  2. “With Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg settling claims and removing plaintiffs from the litigation, the concern is that public recoveries could become the deepest pockets in the litigation, and that governmental bodies could be forced to share if they

  3. I am EXTREMELY sceptical about what I have read about the Oil Spill Litigation in Rebecca Mowbray’s columns over the past few days. Barbier, a Clinton appointee, was a plaintiffs’ lawyer prior to his nomination and confirmation by Congress, and brought with him to the Bench “all sorts of” prejudices.

    This might not have been such a “bad” thing for the innocent victims of the negligence, fault and willful misconduct that caused the events of April 20, 2010 and their aftermath, but what “good” do those prejudices do for innocent victim/litigants when: “With Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg settling claims and removing plaintiffs from the litigation, the concern is that public recoveries could become the deepest pockets in the litigation, and that governmental bodies could be forced to share if they’re operating under the auspices of the plaintiffs committee”?

    So what I see, if I’m reading “right”, is that Barbier is attempting to shove “The Plaintiffs’ Committee” down Buddy Caldwell’s throat (and down the throats of other State Attorneys General, some of whom may be willing, some not), which could have the effect of circumventing Louisiana State law which prohibits the Attorney General from entering into contingent fee arrangements with private attorneys, and prohibits private attorneys from recovering legal fees out of funds awarded to the State. Wherever the word “State” appears, substitute the word “taxpayers”.

    In an article by Beisner, Miller and McSweeny, entitled: “Bounty Hunters on the Prowl: The Troubling Alliance of State Attorneys General and Plaintiffs’ Lawyers”, the law in Louisiana was summarized as follows: “The attorney general of Louisiana may not enter into contingency fee arrangements absent legislative authorization. Although the attorney general is authorized to hire outside counsel by statute, Louisiana courts have found that contingent fee arrangements with private attorneys are unconstitutional, because the power to appropriate and spend public funds is solely a legislative function.

    In one case, a Louisiana intermediate court concluded that because the State constitution requires all funds received by the State to be directly deposited in the treasury, a contingent fee contract law firms engaged for an environmental lawsuit was unconstitutional.” The “authorities” cited included: Meredith v. Ieyoub, 700 So. 2d 478 (La. 1997), Louisiana Constitution of 1974 Article VII, Section 9(A), and Louisiana Revised Statutes Title 49, Section 258.

    Some of the same plaintiffs lawyers who now serve on “the Committee” annointed by Barbier in the Oil Spill Litigation tried unsuccessfully to circumvent this body of law in the KATRINA litigation. I don’t know how they did it, but they were moderately successful in circumventing the law in the Tobacco Litigation, and it looks like they are about to repeat their Tobacco success in the Oil Spill case, with more than a little “help” from Barbier.

    As for Calvin Fayard (SPIT!) prosecuting claims for dead wildlife on behalf of State entities, pardon me, but I don’t see anywhere in the legislation where a private attorney gets such a right, with a right to collect legal fees, without legislative approval and/or approval from the Division of Administration. And what the hell do the taxpayers need Fayard for? All we’re talking about is counting the number of dead wildlife and assigning a value to each. This “ain’t” rocket science. Ashton O’Dwyer a/k/a “The WHITE Henry Glover”.

  4. Ashton, I had to break your post into paragraphs to understand your comment – but your “reading” seems to be correct.

    What I think you missed is the “distinction” between contingency fee contracts that call for the court to set the attorney fees separate from any award to the state. It’s a distinction that has caused much controversy and, by no means, is that controversy limited to Louisiana.

    State attorney generals, particularly in the current economy, lack the resources (staff and money) to initiate the costly, drawn out litigation required by such cases.

  5. Thanks, Nowdy. One of these days I am going to become “sophisticated” enough to break my writing down into paragraphs. And, yes, on an intellectual level, I can see the argument that there may be a distinction between a contingency fee contract and a “fee awarded by a Court on a percentage basis”. But this is, in my judgment, just what Barbier (and his buddies at the Plaintiffs’ Bar) is doing in the Oil Spill case: He is intentionally abusing his judicial power to do indirectly what the Committee members could not do directly, namely award hefty legal fees to his cronies from taxpayer funds, all under the guise of “Case Management”. Case Management my ass: I know CORRUPTION when I see it. And does anyone have an explanation for why, if these private lawyers are so great, Buddy Caldwell hasn’t embraced them? Won’t they make Caldwell “suffer” at election time for not supporting them and Barbier an d their “plan” for the litigation (and their fees, of course)? Ashton O’Dwyer a/k/a “The WHITE Henry Glover”.

  6. When hitting “return” fails, you can use html code (I can’t show you the code as it just makes the rest of this sentence another paragraph) but I’m a fine one to offer help as I just noticed the text that I thought I’d discarded was below what I’d intended as the end of the post! (oops, it’s done now)

    As I read Mowbray’s article, Barbier may yet decide to exclude any money awarded to federal or state governments from the amount awarded to plaintiffs’ lawyers, including those on the Steering Committee.

    Based on what I read, I don’t expect any attorney, the governments’ included, to benefit without doing a proportionate share of what Barbier called “the heavy lifting”. Will Caldwell “heave ho” or just complain? Only time will tell.

    FWIW, My observation of Katrina litigation left me with a favorable impression of Barbier- and a most unfavorable one of Caldwell.

    However, the oil spill litigation is so complicated that Barbier is really going to have to stay “hands on” and on top of the situation to avoid becoming to the oil spill litigation what Feldman was to Katrina. Surely, he knows that and finds the thought distasteful.

  7. Ashton:

    Go back and take a look at the motion filed by the plaintiff committee in the MRGO litigation asking for an order instructing that all other parties to all other MRGO litigation set aside a percentage of their recoveries as a payment of fees to the committee attorneys for their efforts in getting their case tried first.

    These were lawyers who count on big class action fees to make a living. When class certification was denied, and they’ve got $20 million-plus in expenses and costs, and their main individual case is worth only $7 hundred thousand dollars, they had to find another way to get paid more fees and recover all their costs.

    This is also a novel approach to get around the contingency fee issue with the state of Louisiana – the court orders the states to pay the PSC for their efforts leading to a recovery for the states. That may not be considered a “contingent fee” arrangement.

  8. I’m “with” you, NAAS, which is why I said that the Plaintiffs’ Bar (with Barbier’s “help” – which is entirely CORRUPT) are doing indirectly what they cannot legally do directly. This is all so “transparent” and “unimaginative” that it makes me want to VOMIT. P.S. I don’t have and never knew about the Motion you refer to which was filed in the MRGO case, although I knew that Fayard and his crooked friends had solicited Duval-Daley-Fayard to award them fees and expenses out of the Levee Board Settlement funds, notwithstanding the fact that they had NO “levee” clients. As you know, the Fifth Circuit recently de-railed that endeavor, although Joe Bruno (SPIT!) has stated publicly that “We are going back to the drawing boards” (presumably with Duval-Daley-Fayard’s “help”). Ashton O’Dwyer a/k/a “The WHITE Henry Glover”.

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