NEW ORLEANS BP is asking a federal judge to remove the claims administrator the company claims 'hijacked' its multi-billion-dollar settlement with private claimants.
BP says Patrick Juneau, a lawyer from Lafayette, should be removed by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier because Juneau failed to properly disclose a conflict of interest. A filing of more than 1,000 pages in federal court Tuesday contends that Juneau and his law firm were hired by the state of Louisiana to advise about the claims process run for BP by Ken Feinberg, and that in his work for the state Juneau encouraged Feinberg's office to pay Louisiana claims more generously.
'He went to work as an aggressive advocate for Louisiana claimants' interests,' BP says in the filing. 'He sent extensive written comments to the (Gulf Coast Claims Facility run by Fienberg) regarding Louisiana claimants. BP recently obtained copies of some of those emails, as well as attached documents. They concern subjects that directly overlap the questions (Juneau) would later consider (and often decide) as Claims Administrator ....'
Juneau signed his law firm's initial contract with the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office on July 2, 2010, and signed an amendment in April 2011 that increased the contact price to $275,000. The agreement called for his firm, Juneau David, to provide the state with 'advise and counsel... related to the claims process.'
BP says Juneau never disclosed this contract with Louisiana in any court filing and didn't disclose it orally in court hearings. But BP acknowledges that one of its attorneys made a note during the process of interviewing Juneau for the job of claims administrator and it said: 'Consulted with La. (State) about whole Feinberg process.'
BP says that wasn't good enough.
'An informal, oral disclosure would be insufficient in any event and would not be an acceptable form of dealing with the situation for someone who viewed himself as a quasi-judicial officer,' the filing states.
The company also implies that Juneau lied under oath about his involvement in the oil spill claims process prior to the court settlement, although BPnever uses the word 'lie' in referring to a statement Juneau gave to the court appointed special master, Louis Freeh, the former FBI director.
Freeh was brought in to investigate other accusations of conflicts and improprieties in Juneau's office involving some of his top deputies. Before clearing Juneau personally of wrongdoing, Freeh questioned him on Aug. 1, 2013, and asked Juneau how he came to be appointed claims administrator.
According to a transcript of that interview, Juneau explained how he was summoned to New Orleans by BPand plaintiffs' lawyers out of the blue and said, 'I didn't represent any claimants in the spill, wasn't representing any defendants in the spill, had really had no connection with the spill per se.'
Juneau said he would respond to the BP allegations in court.
'For the past two years when it comes to matters filed in Court, I have maintained the appropriate place to address those issues is before the Court, and that is what I will do,' he said in an emailed statement.
BP executive Bob Dudley has said Juneau 'hijacked' the settlement with private plaintiffs, leading to absurd results of paying claimants not damaged by the spill. BP is appealing various aspects of Juneau's settlement interpretation and succeeded in getting one of his accounting processes overturned. Another appeal, over business claimants' eligibility, has been rejected at several levels, but is now at the Supreme Court awaiting the high court's decision of whether or not to hear it.
Melissa Landry, head of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a tort reform group allied with the oil and gas industry, gave this statement Wednesday:
'The questions raised ... about the overall integrity of the claims process ... are deeply disturbing,' Landry said. 'For some time, we have known about the systemic payment of questionable claims and the ... senior officials operating under Mr. Juneau that were forced to resign amid serious allegations of ... unethical behavior. The most troubling of all, however, is the information about Mr. Juenau's apparent conflict of interest. The court should act quickly to ensure that the rule of law is being followed and that the settlement process is fair for all the remaining claimants who were truly harmed by this tragic incident.'