Joe Nocera for The New York Times: Getting Skewered in New Orleans

July 19th, 2013

The New York Times
by Joe Nocera
July 19, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — “All rise,” boomed the bailiff as the Honorable Carl J. Barbier strode to the bench in his courtroom here. It was 8:35 Friday morning. Barbier was frowning.

The federal judge overseeing the civil litigation related to the BP oil spill, Barbier had called this hearing because BP had asked for a temporary halt to the payments it was making through a claims process overseen by the court. The judge wasn’t a bit happy about it.

When I first delved into this subject last week, my main point was that it sure looked as though the local plaintiffs’ lawyers who had originally sued BP had — how should I put this? — a home-court advantage.

Although BP has paid some $11 billion to spill victims since 2010, a group of local plaintiffs’ lawyers had sued and succeeded in wresting a settlement from the London-based company that was expected to cost an additional $7.8 billion. The settlement made clear that many businesses were going to get money even though their losses had nothing to do with the spill. For BP, this was the cost of peace with the powerful Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, as it is called. (It also agreed not to contest lawyers’ fees up to — are you sitting down? — $600 million.)

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