After the the Class-Action-that-didn’t-happen early on in Hurricane Katrina litigation, alternative resolution was made available. According to the website of the Jackson office of Baker Donelson, this option was the “brainchild” of the former assistant commissioner of the Mississippi Insurance Department (MID) and current Baker Donelson attorney, Lee Harrell:
Established the MID Hurricane Katrina Mediation Program and the U.S. Federal Court Mediation Program, which streamlined the claims handling process and resolved thousands of claims quickly and satisfactorily without lengthy and expensive litigation…
Others see Harrell and his brainchild in a different light – mediation fraud.
However, it would have been preventable mediation fraud had the Southern District Mississippi court taken oversight of the process as requested by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Via a recently filed “Statement of Interest on Behalf of the State of Mississippi”, Hood has made a similar request of Judge Barbier for much the same reason he ask the Mississippi court to protect hurricane disaster victims:
The Attorney General’s Statement to U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier asks the court to take control in order “to correct the deficiencies in the GCCF as outlined in the PSC’s Motion and in this Statement of Interest, in order to facilitate the timely and just processing of claims…“I want Mr. Feinberg to continue paying claims, but I want the process to be transparent, fair and fast…”
Judge Barbier has additional incentive provided by he-who-didn’t-make-the-Steering-Committee. The Wall Street Journal told the story in Oil Spill Lawyers Urge Clients to Settle:
The move away from the courts by the alliance of attorneys—led by Daniel Becnel in Louisiana—represents a new tactic for lawyers who weren’t named to lead the federal litigation and so are ineligible to reap the biggest fees. (emphasis added) (h/t Y’all Politics)
Becnel is not a frequent mention on SLABBED, appearing in only one post to my knowledge, but search “oil spill litigation” and he’s everywhere. Clearly ambitious and wealthy, it appears he may even have come up with a plan to take his money with him when he joins the big class action in the hereafter:
Becnel does not deny that he, too, is acting at least in part out of self-interest. “I want my money now and my clients want their money now,” said Becnel, who said he keeps 10 to 12 percent of his BP fund clients’ awards — significantly lower than the typical contingency fee.
“I’m 66 years old and can’t wait another 20 years to resolve this,” said Bencel, whose 21-lawyer firm is based in Reserve, Louisiana. “A lot of my clients live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to wait. They want closure.”
It also appears Becnel believes Judge Barbier ensured such lengthy litigation when he appointed others to the four-member Executive Committee of the fifteen-member Steering Committee. However, Becnel has been unhappy since he wasn’t selected to represent Louisiana in arguments heard by the MDL panel back in July. Phillip Thomas had that story on his Mississippi Litigation Review blog:
There is a dispute brewing among Louisiana plaintiff lawyers over who will get to argue at the MDL Panel hearing on July 29, 2010 that all oil spill cases should be transferred to Louisiana.
Some lawyers want New Orleans lawyer Russ Herman to argue for the Easter District of Louisiana at the hearing. That prompted this lengthy response email from Louisiana lawyer Dan Becnel:
“With all due respect, please be advised that I was the original moving party in the MDL and filed the first lawsuit which asked for a MDL. I have since filed complaints in numerous jurisdictions…While I have great respect for Calvin and Russ, I must advise that nobody to my knowledge that has filed a motion to speak before the MDL Panel has the credibility that I have before this Panel…”
Obviously, this quoted text represents only a small portion of Becnel’s “lengthy response” but Thomas has it all on MLR, as well as an excellent series of posts tracking events in the litigation.
My take. Barbier is the “new sheriff in town” who made changes in the pecking order that were demanded by some and not welcomed by others – and that’s all the more reason for him to remember the legal storm following the disaster of the hurricane and work with Attorney General Hood to ensure the claims settlement and litigation process following the BP-Gulf oil spill disaster is “transparent, fair and fast”.
Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong -these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history. (Winston Churchill)