Legal watchdog accuses attorneys representing class in Bayou Corne Sinkhole case of charging exorbitant legal fees

By Louisiana Record reports | Mar 10, 2015

NEW ORLEANS – Attorneys representing residents of Bayou Corne in class action litigation over environmental damage caused by a massive sinkhole in Ascenion Parish are under fire from a local legal watchdog group that alleges they racked up unrealistic and excessive legal fees.

Last week attorneys handling the case on behalf of the plaintiffs were given a big pay day for their representation of the class involved in the Bayou Corne disaster.

The Bayou Corne sinkhole first appeared in August 2012 after an underground salt dome collapsed due to oil exploration activity that was being conducted in the area by Texas Brine. The collapse caused a 2.5 acre sinkhole that has now, over two and half years later, expanded to at lest 32 acres and caused a number of environmental issues that has resulted in the evacuation and condemnation of affected parts the town of Bayou Corne and surrounding areas.

Texas Brine later agreed to a $48.2 million class action settlement, $12 million of which was allocated, along with nearly $300,000 in additional costs, by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey to attorneys involved in the representation of area residents who were evacuated in the aftermath of the disaster.

Court documents show that attorneys representing class counsel in the case documented 8,256 hours of work on the settlement while their assistants and paralegals logged 709 hours. Together, that is a total cost of roughly $1,300 an hour.

The legal fees were granted by the court-appointed special master in the case, A. Shelby Easterly, of Denham Springs-based Easterly Law Office APLC. Easterly lauded the efforts of class counsel claiming they had squeezed over four years of effort into just two years and deserved the fee rate requested.

“Class Counsel have earned a reasonable fee and considering the circumstances of this case the request is recommended for favorable consideration as reasonable,” Easterly wrote in his court filing supporting the legal fees.

In contrast, Melissa Landry, executive director of legal watchdog Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said the settlement fees provided to attorneys involved in the case are questionable at best.

“Rule 1.5 of the Louisiana Rules for Professional Conduct requires attorneys to charge their clients a ‘reasonable fee.’ In what world is $1,300/ hour a reasonable fee? I’m sure if you asked, the vast majority of Louisianians would disagree,” she said.

Attorneys handling the case, who in addition to receiving a portion of their client’s claims also received a lump sum of $1,324,320.58, include Calvin C. Fayard Jr. of Denham Springs-based Fayard & Honeycutt, Matthew B. Moreland of Reserve-based Becnel Law Firm, Lawrence J. Centola III of New Orleans-based Martzell & Bickford and Richard Perque of New Orleans-based The Law Office of Richard G. Perque LLC.

Fayard in particular, also known as a member of the group of attorneys representing plaintiffs the Deepwater Horizon class action, has been prolific when it comes to class action representation in Louisiana. He also has a reputation for being a big spender in funding the campaigns of state politicians having provided hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade alone.

Below is a full list of allocations to attorneys in Bayou Corne settlement:

• Class Counsel – $1,324,320.58
• Girardi Keese – $814,007.57
• Lana Ourso Chaney – $517,357.64
• Huber, Slack, Thomas & Marcelle, LLP – $505,642.45
• Calvin C. Fayard, Jr. (APC) – $333,242.50
• D. Blayne Honeycutt – $333,242.50
• Law Office of Hobart Pardue, L.L.C. – $252,910.18
• Pardue Law Firm, L.L.C. – $252,910.18
• Becnel Law Firm, L.L.C. – $220,805.13
• Heidi Mabile Gould – $160,644.66
• Law Office of Richard Perque, L.L.C. – $147,630.67
• Martzell & Bickford – $104,883.51
• Koury & Hill, L.L.C. – $104,883.51
• Pendley, Baudoin & Coffin, L.L.P. – $59,130.86
• Harley M. Brown, APLC – $48,493.91
• Block Law Firm, APLC – $43,710.99
• Autumn Town – $36,907.67
• Whitworth Law Firm – $36,266.79
• Marvin Gros, APLC – $29,333.33
• Broussard & David, L.L.C. – $28,589.17
• Kenneth Dupaty – $3,333.33
• C.E. Bourg, II – $833.33
• Cave Law Firm, L.L.C. – $416.64

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