NEW ORLEANS – U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has granted a hearing to be held Friday, July 19 at 8:30 a.m. concerning BP’s request for a temporary injunction to stop the claims process paying damages to those affected by the 2010 BP oil spill, while a court appointed investigator court determines if two top legal counsel in the claims administrators office intervened in claims in which they had a personal financial stake.
The issue is currently under investigation by Special Master Louis Freeh, an ex-FBI director. Freeh was appointed by Barbier to investigate claims administrator Patrick Juneau’s office after Juneau revealed in an internal investigation that Lionel Sutton III, a senior attorney in the claims administration office, wrote policies trying to influence claims on behalf of himself and other plaintiffs’ attorneys. In addition, Christine Reitano, Sutton’s wife, who was also an attorney in the claims administrator’s office, was removed from her position.
In BP’s request to the court, attorneys wrote, “BP will be irreparably harmed absent a preliminary injunction. Since BP and Mr. Juneau first learned of the allegations of potential fraud and misconduct in the facility, the CSSP has made more than $440 million in payments.” BP also argued that that it would be impossible to recover wrongfully paid claims if Freeh ultimately determines there was corruption in Juneau’s office.
Barbier’s decision to grant the hearing is part of a continuing saga over BP’s assertion that claims process is flawed and potentially corrupted.
In a hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District on July 8, BP argued Juneau has been misinterpreting the claims process and allowing damage payments from the 2010 Gulf oil spill to go to businesses that either cannot show damages or have inflated damages and should be stopped. In the appeals hearing Judge Edith Clement Brown remarked that around $1 billion had been paid out since the issue arose.
The granting of a hearing is an about face for Barbier who in April denied a previous preliminary injunction by BP requesting an emergency stop. However, that request involved the BP’s assertion that claims process was flawed whereas this request involves alleged wrongdoing on behalf of the claims administrators.
On Monday BP also opened a fraud hotline (1-855-NO2-FRAUD) that will allow anonymous callers to turn in those pursuing false claims due to the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. Callers to the BP fraud hotline could receive a reward if their information results in a claim denial, recovery of damages or an indictment.