NEW ORLEANS – A trio of Gulf Coast businessmen, one of whom is in jail, are suing two Texas attorneys who they claim failed to pay them $7.9 million for directing BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill claimants to their law firm.
The plaintiffs, Scott Walker, Steve Seymour and Kirk Ladner, filed suit against attorneys Jimmy Williamson and Michael Pohl in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on Oct. 8.
Walker, who is serving an 18 month sentence in federal prison for fraud in another case, as well as Seymour – an elected official serving as a Hancock County supervisor – and Ladner, all of whom are Mississippi residents, allege they and their affiliated business had a joint contract in place with Williamson and Pohl, both of whom belong to the State Bar of Texas, in which they were to provide public relations and marketing services for the purpose of obtaining Deepwater Horizon oil spill claimants for the defendants.
Under the contract the plaintiffs assert they were to be paid $1,500 an hour, 10 hours a day, seven days a week and that the payment was not contingent on successful claims payments, but they would also receive a percentage of each claim.
In the lawsuit, Williamson is alleged to have directed the plaintiffs to reach out to specific potential claimants to garner their business.
“Williamson identified specific individuals and entities involved in the seafood business who were seeking representation on claims related to the BP oil spill, and urged these Plaintiffs to up their marketing efforts lest Williamson [would] ‘lose the right to pursue’ those claims,” the lawsuit states.
Altogether, the plaintiffs allege they directed 9,486 claimants who signed contracts to be represented by Williamson and Pohl for which they were to be paid $8.025 million of which they claim they were only paid a fraction. Walker, Seymour and Ladner contend they are still owed $7.875 million by Williamson and Pohl for the services they provided.
Pohl and Williamson are accused of breach of contract, bad faith breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, reckless disregard and negligence.
In a Dec. 22 motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Pohl and Williamson deny the claims brought by Walker, Seymour and Ladner maintaining that any such agreement to obtain claimants on their behalf would be illegal under Mississippi and Texas laws for a non-lawyer to solicit clients.
“[T]he essence of Plaintiffs’ claims as pleaded in the Amended Complaint appears to be that Plaintiffs agreed to accept or accepted money to improperly solicit BP clients for Pohl and the Williamson defendants,” the motion to dismiss states. “While Pohl denies that he retained Plaintiffs to provide anything other than legitimate public relations services as expressly permitted by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the essence of Plaintiffs’ claims appears to be that they (Plaintiffs) engaged in illegal conduct by soliciting BP clients for money. For this reason, Plaintiffs cannot recover from Pohl under any cause of action.”
Pohl and Williamson claim the plaintiffs were contracted to provide ordinary marketing and public relations series rather than the solicitation of clients as alleged in the lawsuit.
If the plaintiffs are successful in proving that the defendants contracted them to solicit clients, Pohl and Williamson could be subject to disciplinary action by the State Bar of Texas.
The deadline for filing final briefs in the case is Jan. 20.