BP claims chief to get “walking papers” petition Monday


THIBODAUX – Oil spill claims chief Ken Feinberg will get less-than-welcoming messages from people in Grand Isle and other communities that he visits Monday.

Fishermen and other people living on Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island plan to present him with copies of a petition they have circulated through Facebook and other online sites asking the he be dismissed for alleged failure to carry out his duties appropriately.

Karen Hopkins, the assistant to Grand Isle shrimp dock owner Dean Blanchard who has taken on the role of community activist since April’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility has failed to ensure that claims against the $20 billion BP spill fund have not been fairly administered. Feinberg’s reluctance to disclose how much he is being paid to oversee the process is also a point of contention.

Blanchard is aware of the petition, but has not been involved with its circulation.

“You have required us at every turn to re-file,” Hopkins said the petition reads, adding that Feinberg’s staff members have demanded “more documentation before compensation can be considered.”

The actions of the claims operation, Hopkins said, differ from Feinberg’s public statements.

Feinberg is scheduled to appear at the Grand Isle Community Center at 4:30 p.m. Monday. Prior to that he will be in Mississippi, where Hopkins said other people plan to make a similar presentation to him.

Among the people who have not signed the petition is Betty Doud, a 52-year-old professional house-painter who also works at a land-net shrimping operation on the island.

Doud said she is afraid to have her name appear on such a document while her claim is still being reviewed, although she was turned down by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility after making her initial request. A prior filing directly to BP – prior to President Barack Obama’s appointment of Feinberg – was paid in the amount of $1,500. But Doud said that’s not nearly enough to cover her losses.

A point of contention, she said, was that she initially filed strictly on the basis of the shrimping work. When she tried to file for losses related to the house-painting business, she said, she was denied and told she couldn’t switch.

Doud said she does plan to sign a petition still in the works, which will be sent to Obama, demanding the resignation of Feinberg.

A call to spokespeople for the Feinberg operation was not returned Sunday.

The Claims Facility Web site states that 470,332 claims have been filed to date from all states affected by the spill, directly or indirectly. A total of 168,013 of those claims have been paid, in the amount of $2,941,546,976.96.

Feinberg’s critics have suggested that the interest he represents is that of BP, cited as the responsible party for the spill that gushed millions upon millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That contention has been challenged by a nationally recognized legal ethics expert, Stephen Gillers of the New York University School of Law, who provided Feinberg with his opinion that the claims chief is clearly “independent” of BP.

“You are not in an attorney-client relationship with BP. You are an independent Administrator and owe none of the attributes of the attorney?client relationship (e.g., loyalty, confidentiality) to BP,” a letter to Feinberg from Gillers states. “By ‘independent’ I mean (and I think the context is clear) that you are independent of BP. You are not subject to its direction or control…The ‘Gulf Coast Claims Facility Protocol for Interim and Final Claims’ similarly recognizes that you are ‘a neutral fund administrator’ and the GCCF ‘is an independent facility.’”

Although there has been widespread local criticism of the claims operation, some local fishermen and seafood processors have also praised the manner in which claims have been handled.

Senior Staff Writer John DeSantis can be reached at 850-1150 or john.desantis@dailycomet.com

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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