Caldwell: Don't lump Louisiana in with oil spill plaintiffs

Steve Korris Oct. 15, 2010, 11:43am


NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) - Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell aims to prevent private lawyers from controlling state oil spill claims and reaping fees from state recoveries.

"Louisiana does not consent to representation by the plaintiff steering committee," he wrote to U.S. Multi District Judge Carl Barbier on Oct. 8.

He urged Barbier to run claims of state and federal agencies on a separate track from claims of private parties.

Caldwell argues that no court ever forced a state to participate in a multidistrict process led by private parties, "thereby subjecting itself to fees payable out of the state's recovery."

"Louisiana cannot agree to a scenario which will likely lead to such a result," he wrote.

He wrote that plaintiff counsel would not agree to waive fees from state recoveries.

In an environmental case, only the Legislature has authority to give away part of the state's recovery in the form of a contingency fee, he wrote.

"It does not matter that the fee is styled as a 'common benefit' assessment," he wrote.

"Any common benefit assessment against state recoveries by the plaintiffs' steering committee would violate the letter and spirit of state law.

"Multidistrict litigation is not intended to create a situation where government claims are involuntarily mixed with those of private parties, and subject to the leadership of those parties' counsel.

"Only Louisiana can maintain an action for damages to the natural resources within the state's trust.

"It is inappropriate that a state or its chief law enforcement officer be required to stand aside and have a private steering committee, not retained by the state, make determinations regarding the state's claims."

Caldwell took the position that the state "is far ahead of the private plaintiffs in investigating the evidence of the disaster and preparing the state's claims, which is why the plaintiffs are seeking to subpoena state files."

He wrote that the plaintiff steering committee, or PSC, "should focus their energies on expeditious resolution of the private party claims without any reliance upon obtaining fees from the state's recovery."

"Further, the state does not need the PSC's common benefit work," he wrote.

"Consistent with Louisiana law, the Legislature and Governor are advancing monies to pay hourly fees to its attorneys, as well as its consultants and experts.

"Considering the size, scope and complexity of the state's claims, it is likely the PSC, if anything, will ultimately borrow from the state's work, as often happens in environmental and antitrust cases.

Caldwell also predicted conflicts of interest on the steering committee, writing that an oil spill plaintiff sued the state in East Baton Rouge parish.

"Government entities are being and will likely continue to be sued in relation to this disaster," he wrote.

"The significant conflict of interest created by a PSC that purports to represent the interests of both the state as plaintiff in some cases, and the state's adversaries in others, is obvious and self apparent."

The United States endorsed a separate government track, and Caldwell wrote that Mississippi would join in support.

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