NEW ORLEANS - Two attorneys on the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee have responded to New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera's op-ed published on July 8, alleging that the claims process awarding damages to those affected by the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill is not just flawed, but likely evidence of corruption within Louisiana's legal profession.
In Nocera's column "Justice, Louisiana Style" he unfavorably compared the legal climate in Louisiana to that of Russia where the author inferred disputes are settled unfairly and discourage long-term investments by businesses.
The column was published the same day BP argued against the claims process in the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fifth District. In the hearing BP questioned Claims Administrator Patrick Juneau's interpretation of the claims process that BP alleges allows businesses with no recognizable losses during the oil spill to receive damages and those with evidence of economic damage to inflate the damage payments.
Juneau's interpretation was earlier supported in court by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the oil spill case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
In a July 17 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Stephen D. Herman of New Orleans-based Herman, Herman & Katz and James Parker Roy of Lafayette-based Domengeaux, Wright, Roy & Edwards disagreed with Nocera's analysis of the situation.
Herman and Roy are lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the BP litigation.
"Mr. Nocera unfairly characterized the settlement agreement that BP entered into last year with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee," they wrote.
"The notion that BP somehow got 'hosed' or 'fleeced' is preposterous."
Herman and Roy wrote that BP "undervalued the settlement it agreed to and is now attempting to change the rules in an effort to save money."
The attorneys pointed out that for more than two years BP negotiated, helped draft, agreed to and sought court approval of the settlement that provides compensation based on "objective, transparent formulas," the letter states.
Nocera called Juneau a "a good-ol'-boy local lawyer" and pointed out Barbier had been long time plaintiffs attorney who once led the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association.
"We vehemently dispute Mr. Nocera's groundless disparagement of the judge, Carl Barbier, who was selected by an impartial panel of federal judges, and of the claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, a nationally respected mediator," the letter to the editor says. "Both are lawyers with reputations beyond reproach."
Barbier previously denied a hearing to put an emergency stop on the claims process due to BP's disagreement with Juneau over how payments were being handled. However, just yesterday Barbier's court announced a hearing would be held on July 19 concerning the putting an emergency stop on the claims process, only this time due to an investigation into two attorneys working within Juneau's office who were fired for allegedly pursuing their own economic interests, and those of their fellow plaintiffs' attorneys, by giving some damage requests preferential treatment.