Judge refuses to fire Gulf oil spill claims chief

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2014 6:24 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP's call for the ouster of the administrator of damage settlement claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was rejected Monday by a federal judge.

BP lawyers had said Patrick Juneau should be removed for a variety of reasons, among them that he had a conflict of interest because he once represented Louisiana in talks setting up the claims process and had pushed for favorable terms for those with claims. They also said he had made misleading statements about that work before being named claims administrator. And they said Juneau improperly expedited claims for some people represented by the plaintiffs' steering committee.

But U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said in Monday's ruling that BP clearly knew of Juneau's previous consulting work for the state. "Mr. Juneau himself disclosed this information to BP and at least six of its attorneys or representatives before he was selected by the parties," the judge wrote.

Barbier also said BP used an out-of-context statement to back up its claims that Juneau had given false or misleading statements regarding his work.

He said there was no evidence that some plaintiffs' steering committee clients had their claims improperly expedited. He said there was an effort in 2012 by the various parties to the settlement to "process a substantial number of high value claims" to show that the settlement program was working.

"Although some of these claims were for clients of PSC members, according to Mr. Juneau over 60 percent of the claims were for clients of non-PSC attorneys, including some objectors to the settlement," Barbier wrote.

Aside from rejecting the substance of BP's arguments, Barbier said the motion to remove Juneau was filed too late. "A party cannot wait until after an adverse decision has been made by the judge before raising the issue of recusal," he wrote.

BP has long expressed unhappiness with Juneau's interpretation of a 2012 claims settlement once hailed by all parties involved, and is challenging in court elements of the settlement to which it once agreed.

"I will continue to process claims in a fair and consistent manner while following the court's direction," Juneau said in a brief emailed statement Monday evening.

BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement that the company strongly disagreed with Barbier's ruling and was considering its options for appeals.

"Simply put, it is unacceptable for the claims program to continue operating as it has been — inefficiently, secretively, and marred by corruption, fraud, and conflicts of interest," Morrell said.