There’s a new stench hovering over the Gulf Coast, and once again BP is responsible. This time, however, it is the sour smell of desperation. I’ve told you several times in recent months that BP — after arguing strenuously and winning approval for an $8.7 billion Deepwater Horizon settlement with Gulf residents and small business owners — is trying just as hard to renege on that obligation. In doing so, they’ve increasingly lashed out at decent people on the other side — typically with neither the evidence nor the justification to back up their grandiose charges.
They’ve whined on blogs and in expensive newspaper ads, boasting of finding alleged fraud even though virtually every point they’ve raised so far has been repudiated in an open court of law. My policy, generally speaking, has been to ignore these wild, poorly aimed salvos — because responding to a baseless change can sometimes backfire and give it more credence. And I normally would not care if they dragged me — as an attorney representing literally thousands of claimants against BP — into their slimy campaign, since I’ve been suing the Big Oil giants for nearly a quarter century, and I’m used to having everything but the kitchen sink thrown at me.
But BP’s recent attack on a good man and an esteemed law school — based in good part on their connection to me — is so unconscionable that it necessitates a response. Their target was Blaine LeCesne, a professor at my legal alma mater, the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans. Because LeCesne wrote in a piece for Legal Newsline — with considerable evidence to back up his argument — that a BP-paid-for probe into alleged settlement abuse is “much ado about nothing” — the oil giant launched a completely unwarranted attack against this professor and his academic freedom. The centerpiece of their argument was that LeCesne, and indeed all of the Loyola law school, is corrupted because I, a lawyer representing legitimate claimants against BP, once pledged $1.25 million in 2008 to establish the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice at the law school.
The money that I’ve donated to Loyola was announced in 2008, two years before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe even occurred. It is one of many donations that Loyola receives from a number of sources. Many of the school’s donors — especially to the law school — are attorneys, and many of them have worked for the big oil companies or for big business. In fact, some Loyola law alumni are now working for BP as attorneys.
In its blog post, BP is going after a respected professor for exercising his right of free speech. What’s more, this is Professor LeCesne’s own opinion — neither me nor my law firm spoke to Mr. LeCesne about his speech or actions.
Moreover, neither I nor my law firm was a member of the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee, or PSC, which took the lead role in negotiating the $8.7 billion settlement with BP. In fact, BP’s bizarre argument trying to link me to Professor LeCesne’s opinion completely overlooks a critical point — which is that I actually opposed the settlement on the grounds that it was unfair to many of my clients. So for BP to connect me to a professor’s statement in a news article defending the settlement doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense. The reality is that BP went to great lengths inside a courtroom to argue that the settlement was fair, and they won. Now that they don’t like the bottom-dollar reality of what they agreed to, they’re crying that it’s unfair and trying to change the rules in the middle of the game. It’s completely daft.
So BP is desperately trying to modify the less favorable outcomes of a settlement to which the company freely agreed while keeping all of the benefits — such as reduced losses for property damage in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Indeed, there is little precedent for what BP is doing here — making out-of-court statements and taking out ads in an attempt to both politically influence the courts and to distract public attention from their bad acts.
As I’ve written here on past occasions, the reason that BP is paying out substantial cash to business owners who lost money during the 2010 spill or to Gulf residents who were sickened by its pollution is quite simply this: BP’s gross negligence caused harm to the region that is essentially incalculable. Let us not forget that this is a company that reported an $11.6 billion profit for 2012, and that was after making a down payment on some of the money it owes for Deepwater Horizon. What’s more, BP promised President Obama it would pay $20 billion in claims, but it has only released $13 billion so far.
The current settlement is flawed — but it’s flawed because it fails to take into account that the environmental damage is still ongoing, and that the cost to the Gulf Coast is actually greater than it’s agreed to pay. Rather than make good for its tragic mistake, BP would prefer to double down and attack a decent college professor for merely exercising his right of free speech. That is more proof of what we’ve learned every day since 2010, that this is a company with a sick, sick culture.
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