NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge has lifted an informal stay on oil spill damage payments, a stoppage that had tied up certain claims in recent months while BP challenged the interpretation of a section of its multi-billion-dollar settlement agreement with private claimants.
The court-appointed claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, said he heard from U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier after WWLTV.com broke the story of BP's complaint and the previously unreported stay on payments earlier this week.
Juneau said Barbier instructed him to restart the payments while the judge reconsiders his previous ruling against BP.
BP's challenges and the judge's rulings have all been done over email, and not in the open court record, which has left affected claimants angry and wondering why their files are not being processed.
Late last year, BP saw large payments going to claimants in so-called 'variable profit' industries, specifically construction, agriculture and professional services. Some of the claims came from lawyers, the very same lawyers who now stand to make big bucks representing clients against BP.
The company argued that a stricter test needed to be in place to determine if losses in those industries really were due to the oil spill or stemmed from other economic factors. But the oil giant's settlement with plaintiffs had already lain out the way such claims should be paid. So when we reported BP's request for reconsideration, affected claimants cried 'no take backs!'
Juneau put out a policy statement last month that said that BP's settlement with private plaintiffs in the spring of 2012 clearly set out basic terms for establishing that a business is eligible and then provides clear formulas for calculating its claim.
And on Jan. 30, emails show that Barbier agreed, stating that any 'anomalies' in payments to those claimants result from 'the objective, straightforward mechanisms set forth in the Settlement Agreement.'
But emails among lawyers indicated that BP asked Barbier to reconsider and that he was doing that, even as he also presided over the high-stakes trial in which state and local governments allege gross negligence by BP in the oil spill.
Juneau confirmed today that he had been putting on hold payments to those affected by the dispute, but had been informed in the last day or so that he should start paying them again while Barbier reconsiders.
Juneau said he could not determine how many claimants are potentially affected by the dispute.
Juneau also defended the use of email to hold the debate, saying that it was an effort to quickly resolve the matter.
'This judge has done a Herculean job of overseeing this case and when this issue is settled definitively I'm sure you'll find it in the record,' he said.