LAFAYETTE – An attorney who was disciplined earlier this year after it was revealed he was complicit in secret payments to a claims center attorney in an alleged attempt to influence BP claims is suing the oil giant for defamation.
In a lawsuit very similar to a defamation lawsuit filed by his brother Gilbert “Gibby” Andry IV and The Andry Law Firm, Jonathan Andry and The Andry Law Group LLC filed a defamation lawsuit against BP Exploration & Production Inc., BP America Production Company, Michael Kunzelman and Mark Holstein in 16th Judicial District Court in Iberia Parish on Jan. 19. The case was transferred to the Western District Court of Louisiana at BP’s request on May 18.
Andry was one of a group of attorneys who were sanctioned by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in February and barred from representing further Deepwater Horizon claimants for allegedly engaging in a secret kickback scheme with a claims center attorney. In his ruling on the matter, Barbier said that while there is not direct evidence that Andry and the other attorneys engaged in illegal activity it was clear that they “engag[ed] in conduct involving dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation.” Subsequently, Barbier ruled that Andry would have to relinquish his involvement in any Deepwater Horizon claims going forward. In addition, the judge reported the attorneys to relevant bar associations for discipline.
In the new lawsuit, Andry asserts that after the payment to the claims center employee was discovered BP entered into a media campaign by leaking classified information to the Associated Press and its reporter to discredit the court and its officers, including class administrator Patrick Juneau, as well as plaintiffs in an attempt to decrease their liability for damages once it became clear the overall payments would greatly exceed the $7.8 billion the company initially estimated.
“This media campaign was intentionally designed to intimidate the Court, and Mr. Juneau and other claimants and other potential clients,” Andry’s lawsuit states. “It was also specifically designed by the defendants to cast the defendants as a ‘victim’, notwithstanding the fact that they were found to be grossly negligent and the fact that their gross negligence resulted in severely damaging the Gulf Coast environmentally and economically.”
As part of the campaign Andry alleges BP leaked sensitive court documents to defendant Kunzelman, a reporter for the Associated Press, who then wrote a story concerning allegations that Andry and law partner Glenn Lerner had engaged in a scheme to pay a secret referral fee to claims administration attorney employee Lionel “Tiger” Sutton to help expedite claims on behalf of the their law firm. While a $40,000 payment to Sutton was discovered which took a circuitous route, including going through a defunct bank account for a business he co-owned with Lerner was eventually tracked to Lerner, Andry maintains that payment was for work Sutton had previously done on a claim he referred to the Andry Lerner law firm.
However, Louis J. Freeh, a former FBI director who was appointed to investigate fraud in the claims center, characterized the payment as being part of a “money laundering” scheme.
Andry also states that Kunselman leaked a letter containing confidential information to the court by Holstein, while serving legal counsel for BP, and that the fallout of the leak and BP’s campaign has been damaging to the reputation of Andry and The Andry Law Group LLC.
According to the lawsuit, Andry also claims BP has continued to feed false narratives to media outlets.
“The defendants continue to make these malicious and false allegations in pleadings with full knowledge that these allegations will be picked up by the press,” the lawsuit alleges.
In a response filed with the court on May 18, BP’s counsel called Andry’s allegation “incredible and unsubstantiated.”