BP must have a death wish


A couple of days ago I wrote about a new low for BP: Allegations that officials with the British oil giant or its massive PR firm Ogilvy & Mather may have been aware of an online social media smear campaign. The harassment targeted regular citizens who dared to criticize the company that — in case you’ve somehow forgotten — caused the death of 11 workers and spewed 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing fish and wildlife, due to gross negligence.

Reading the story, it sounded like BP was a company on the brink of a nervous breakdown — and more recent events suggest that the company is indeed becoming more unhinged as the enormity of its wrongdoing off the Louisiana coast becomes more and more clear.

Earlier this year, we took note of the fact that BP is now challenging some of the billions of dollars in damages that it’s required to pay out to Gulf residents and business owners — the very same settlement that BP’s own attorneys pleaded with the court to approve. Once it became clear that the damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill is far greater than BP realized, the company has been insisting — with little or no justification — that many claims are fraudulent.

The widely respected judge in the BP matter — U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier — has had little patience for the oil company’s crusade to undo the settlement that it had once pushed so aggressively for. Now, BP has — not surprisingly — won some support for its position from the conservative, pro-business judges of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the rulings seem to have had little impact on the payment of claims under Barbier’s guidance. So BP has lashed out at the judge — even though he is also hearing the government’s Clean Water Act lawsuit that could result in a $17 billion (with a “b”) fine. The episode started with this:

BP has escalated an extraordinary courtroom attack on the federal judge in New Orleans presiding over the multibillion-dollar litigation concerning the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The assault on U.S District Judge Carl Barbier concerns one particular battle in a larger legal war, and the oil company’s aggressive strategy could come back haunt it on other fronts.

Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans blocked certain spill-settlement payments for private business claims that BP had alleged were exaggerated or “fictitious.” The ruling amounted to an embarrassing rebuke of Judge Barbier, who had appointed and vigorously defended the claims administrator. Now BP has returned to the Fifth Circuit, accusing Barbier in a filing yesterday of defying the appellate court by failing to stop disputed payments to businesses whose losses the oil company contends had absolutely nothing to do with the April 2010 spill.

“The district court has refused to enjoin payments to claimants that suffered no harm traceable to the oil spill,” BP’s lead appellate lawyer, Theodore Olson, told the Fifth Circuit in a filing he called an “emergency motion.” Judge Barbier’s inaction will cause “hundreds of millions of dollars” to be “irretrievably scattered to thousands of claimants who are not proper class members,” Olson added.

Now you might guess how well that plan worked out:

BP has really irritated Judge Carl Barbier this time. From his courtroom in New Orleans, Barbier presides over the multifaceted litigation concerning the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He has sole discretion over a series of decisions determining whether BP (BP)‘s liability bill from that disaster will total several additional billions of dollars or much, much more.

On Friday, Barbier issued an unusual opinion calling the actions of the oil company’s enormous legal team “deeply disappointing.” Like a parent who’s run out of patience with an obstreperous child, the judge lectured BP’s lawyers for changing their story and trying to “rewrite” the history of the landmark case.

The judge really cut to the chase of the ridiculousness of BP’s argument here:

Barbier said in his order on Friday that BP has changed its position now that it sees how expensive the settlement is turning out to be. The judge cited a Sept. 28, 2012, letter written by BP in-house lawyer Mark Holstein, in which Holstein conceded that “false positives”—claimants who don’t actually have spill-related damage—would be an inevitable byproduct of the settlement. “If anyone is attempting to rewrite or disregard the unambiguous terms of the settlement agreement, it is counsel for BP,” Barbier declared. “Frankly it is surprising that the same counsel who represented BP during the settlement negotiations, participated in drafting the final settlement agreement, and then strenuously advocated for approval of the settlement before this court now come to this court and the Fifth Circuit and contradict everything they have previously done or said on this issue.”

Let’s be perfectly clear: This is not some clever grand strategy by BP, one of the world’s richest companies. No, to the contrary, this is the company’s absence of any plan whatsoever. Instead, this icon of Big Oil is acting like one of the sea creatures that it poisoned after the 2010 spill. It’s thrashing about in the water….harassing its critics and now lashing out at a federal judge. The only question left is…how much lower can BP go?

Read my Nov. 22 post about the campaign against BP’s online social media critics:https://www.stuarthsmith.com/bps-digusting-dirty-war-on-its-online-critics/

Here’s Bloomberg Businessweek on BP declaring “total war” against Judge Barbier: http://mobile.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-22/bp-declares-total-war-on-trial-judge-in-gulf-spill-case?campaign_id=DN112213

For BP’s bad week before Judge Barbier, please read: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-25/bp-legal-actions-in-oil-spill-case-deeply-disappointing-says-judge

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

Add comment

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This