Plaintiffs attorneys oppose BP’s effort to halt Gulf spill payments

Attorneys for victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill oppose BP’s request to suspend all payments from a multibillion dollar civil settlement, saying in a court filing Thursday there is no evidence the overall processing of claims has been corrupted.

The lead attorneys for a steering committee that negotiated the settlement with BP on behalf of thousands of victims said in the filing in federal court in New Orleans that BP has not identified a single claim that it contends was tainted or otherwise affected by an alleged conflict of interest involving a lawyer who used to work for the settlement program.

“And because BP retains the right to appeal any and all such determinations if any – as well as policy interpretations with which BP might disagree, there cannot be irreparable harm nor, indeed, any harm,” attorneys Stephen Herman and James Roy said in the filing.

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They said that based on the existing record, allegations involving the former staffer appear to represent a limited and isolated situation, to which the claims administrator immediately and appropriately responded.

“There is no evidence that any policy was wrongfully implemented or any claim wrongfully paid,” the plaintiffs attorneys said.

They said BP should place faith in the court and an independent investigation ordered by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, rather than seek to enjoin “potentially thousands of transparent, objective and appropriate awards that BP has not identified or challenged as improper under the settlement agreement.”

Barbier has scheduled a hearing for Friday on BP’s request earlier this week for an injunction to block all further payments from the settlement until former FBI Director Louis Freeh completes his probe of the administrator’s office.

So far, claims administrator Patrick Juneau has offered about $4 billion to victims of the disaster off Louisiana.

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BP claims that two of the three senior legal counsel to Juneau’s office were fired recently after apparently intervening in the processing of claims in which they appear to have had a financial stake. It appears from BP’s filing that the company is referring mainly to allegations already known to the court and contained in an internal report by Juneau’s security staff. The two attorneys are married.

BP says that because those individuals were in a position to influence nearly every policy decision or claim determination by the settlement program, there is a risk that other aspects of the claims process have been compromised.

Juneau’s attorney said in a court filing Thursday that BP’s request to halt payments from the settlement is unnecessary, based on premature speculation and “completely overbroad in its scope.”

The attorney noted that Juneau already has placed on hold those claims with any remote connection to the parties under investigation.

“To support its motion, BP draws wholly unwarranted conclusions and inferences related to the issues being investigated, and then asks the court to conclude summarily that BP’s negative theories will likely carry the day, before Special Master Freeh has spoken a word,” Juneau’s attorney, Jennifer Thornton, said.

She added, “The presumption is even more specious when one considers that, with respect to the overwhelming number of claims that would be halted, there is simply no proof whatsoever that such claims were in any way associated with, much less affected by, any person whose conduct generated the investigation ordered by the court.

Juneau has previously said he will continue to administer settlement payments as he has been until he is told otherwise by the court.