Oil spill plaintiff lawyers fight BP effort to oust claims administrator citing conflict

NEW ORLEANS – Lawyers for Gulf Coast businesses and residents who say they were financially harmed by the 2010 BP oil spill are fighting the oil giant’s efforts to remove the administrator of a damage claims settlement arising from the disaster.

BP had filed a federal court motion in September saying Patrick Juneau should be removed. Among the reasons: They said Juneau once represented Louisiana in talks setting up the claims process and had pushed for favourable terms for those with claims. According to BP’s motion, Juneau worked for the state from July 2010 until July 21, 2011.

In a lengthy rebuttal filed Wednesday, plaintiffs’ lawyers said BP was aware of Juneau’s prior consultation with Louisiana officials when he was interviewed and nominated for appointment.

BP has long expressed unhappiness with Juneau’s interpretation of a 2012 claims settlement and is challenging elements of the settlement it once agreed to in court.

The company also has a litany of complaints against Juneau, including the allegation that the claims process lacks transparency and that Juneau spends too much on administration.

“The Claims Administrator, on his own initiative, obtained an operational audit of the Settlement Program, which concluded that Claims were being processed correctly, transparently and efficiently,” said Wednesday’s filing by plaintiff lawyers, headed by Stephen Herman and James Roy.

“Nothing in the briefs submitted by Mr. Juneau or the PSC (plaintiff steering committee) refutes the central fact that Mr. Juneau had an unwaivable conflict that by law should have prevented his appointment as Claims Administrator,” BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

In another legal matter arising from the spill, a Slidell, Louisiana, man pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to wire fraud arising from seafood claims.

Casey Thonn had already been ordered to repay more than $357,000 for fraudulent seafood claims in which he misrepresented his income from shrimping.

Thonn was charged with two counts of wire fraud in September in a federal bill of information. Court records released Wednesday state that his sentencing is set for Jan. 28. His plea agreement states that the maximum sentence is 20 years but also notes that prosecutors can recommend a lighter sentence.