NEW ORLEANS – New York Times columnist Joe Nocera published a biting op-ed yesterday on the BP claims settlement process for businesses who were affected by the 2010 oil spill as run by Patrick Juneau.
Juneau, a Lafayette-based attorney, who Nocera calls "a good-ol’-boy local lawyer" was appointed to take over control of the settlement claims process in March after the plaintiffs’ steering committee and BP came to a settlement on behalf of a class action.
BP argued yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that shortly thereafter settlements began going to businesses who had no identifiable losses and other claims awards were inflated based on false calculations.
Nocera decried Juneau’s interpretation of the settlement which he said allowed businesses that showed a profit during the oil spill crisis to receive a settlement.
BP alleges that the change in the claims settlement process was done without their knowledge and that when they found out about it they had already paid out nearly $1 billion in claims under the faulty calculations and asked for an emergency stop to the claims process from U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier – Nocera points out Barbier is a former plaintiffs’ attorney himself who is a past-president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association – who is overseeing the federal court case.
Barbier not only denied BP’s request, but also told them the claims agreement was not able to be appealed despite their strong opposition to Juneau’s interpretation of the settlement agreement.
Juneau agreed with Barbier’s statement and prior to the appeals court hearing yesterday argued that he should be immune from the appeals process. However, when it came time to present their case in appeals court Juneau’s representative, Rick Stanley, said the office was an objective party and in a position to follow the ruling of the court.
“Our position is that we will do whatever the courts tell us to do,” he said. “We did not negotiate this deal we have no stake in the deal other than execute it as efficiently as possible.”
Nocera pointed out the difference between how Exxon handled the 1989 Valdez oil spill in Alaska by keeping cases in court for years on end without admitting responsibility contrasted with how BP immediately took responsibility for the oil spill and began environmental remediation efforts.
Lastly he compared Louisiana to Russia as being well known for its corruption and not conducive to a productive, just environment that businesses need to thrive.
“A real rule of law gives businesses the confidence they need to make investments. If gives both parties faith that disputes will be settled fairly. It creates certainty,” Nocera wrote.
The appeals court is expected to return their ruling within the next few months in the meantime the claims process continues.