U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier clarified a pre-trial order meant to coordinate state and federal government counsel during a status conference for the BP multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Pre-trial order No. 26 appointed Justice Department attorney Michael Underhill as "Coordinating Counsel for the Federal Government Interests" and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange as "Coordinating Counsel for the State Interests."
Following the order, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell criticized Barbier and claimed that he was depriving states of sovereignty rights and not allowing them to appoint their own counsel.
During the Jan. 28 status conference, Barbier said his order does not deprive states of their own counsel.
"No such thing has occurred," he said. "Each state still has the right to choose their own representation.
Barbier stressed that the order is meant to "put a structure in place" in order to help coordinate all pre-trial actions in order for all parties to be ready for the BP liability trial in his MDL that is set to start in February 2012.
The pre-trial order states that the federal and state coordinating counsel will help with "scheduling meetings, appearing at Court noticed conferences, acting on behalf of the Government Interests he represents, coordinating discovery with the [Plaintiffs Steering Committee] and [Defense Steering Committee], and carrying out any other duty as the Court may order."
Barbier said that, because much of the discovery being conducted right now is the same among so many parties, the goal is to get all government agencies to cooperate and help expedite the process.
"I realize that down the line there will be some divergence of interest when it comes to damages," he said.
Federal MDL 2:10-md-02179