AG King's outside counsel choice for BP suit once thwarted State

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 3, 2010, 1:45pm


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - The law firm that Alabama Attorney General Troy King has hired to fight BP is the same one that helped another giant oil company overturn a multi-billion-dollar judgment for the State.

King announced last month he was preparing a lawsuit against BP and the others allegedly responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to make up for lost tax revenue.

"The time has come to formally prepare for the legal battle that will be required to defend our state's interests and recover full compensation from BP, Transocean and the other parties legally responsible for this disaster," King said at a press conference.

An explosion and fire occurred on Transocean's drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, licensed to BP, on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

King described the spill as "the largest legal disaster ever encountered," and said the state would be working for years to rebuild its economy.

Chris Bence, King's chief of staff, said over the weekend that Balch & Bingham attorneys worked for Exxon when it succeeded in overturning a $3.6 billion verdict that a Montgomery jury returned in a case the State filed against the company for allegedly underpaying natural gas royalties.

Bence said this fact is an advantage rather than a problem.

"We're suing BP and, actually, it is a big plus for the taxpayers and for the state that Balch & Bingham has actual courtroom experience relative to oil company issues because that experience, where before it worked against the state, this time it can be invaluable in working for the state," he told the Montgomery Advertiser on Sunday.

Bence said when he was in business, if he was looking for legal representation, "I was looking for a firm that had the most experience and best success rate.

"When you get into courtrooms that are as power-packed as these are, this is not a beauty contest and you don't want to bring a knife to a gunfight. You want the absolute best lawyers you can find."

King told the newspaper he has briefed gubernatorial candidates Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks on legal issues related to the spill. He said he was willing to brief James Anderson, the Democratic nominee for attorney general.

But he said he wouldn't talk to Republican nominee Luther Strange because of his connections to oil and gas.

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Alabama Attorney General
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