BP Spill Claims: Secrecy Raises New Suspicion

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BP Spill Claims: Secrecy Raises New Suspicion

Every time BP or its hired claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg drip out a little information about Feinberg’s pay deal and BP’s control of the process, it raises even deeper suspicions. More than one group is trying to get to the bottom of the mysteries, but the Center for Justice and Democracy is especially persistent.

Families and small businesses facing an economic crisis while they wait for any kind of settlement have no idea who’s actually working for whom. Is BP  controlling the “independent” lawyers working for Feinberg, who advise claimants to take whatever’s offered and relieve BP of any further responsibility?

It’s past time for BP to hand over everything:  Its contract with Feinberg and his law firm, the law firm’s deals with subcontractors and the ties of subcontractors back to BP.  The victims of BP’s record oil spill in the Gulf deserve answers and prompt payment of fair claims, not secrecy and runarounds.

The Center for Justice and Democracy, a nonprofit focused on consumer access to the courts, tried earlier to get the information released but never even heard back from BP. CJD is now taking a new tack: asking the attorneys general of Gulf states Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to request the information and release it. The letter to the AGs is here.

One of the more startling new charges is that the lawyers hired to answer claimants’ questions work for a firm that directly represents BP:

Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewes

If there was ever any doubt that Mr. Feinberg has been covering up information about his arrangements not only with BP but also with firms he has hired to advise victims or adjudicated claims, the [Mobile, AL] Press-Register story yesterday should remove all doubt.
The paper obtained “several legal contracts drafted on behalf of BP by lawyers with the Brunini firm. Those contracts describe Brunini attorneys as ‘BP attorneys.’” Of all firms that Mr. Feinberg could hire, he chose this one to offer “free legal advice” to victims filing damage claims against BP, asking them to release BP of all future liability.
That Mr. Feinberg sees no ethical problem here is stunning. The paper reports, “’Ken was aware that Brunini was doing some work for BP, but it is completely separate,’ said Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Feinberg.

Here’s the Press-Register story.

Speaking of being paid by BP, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, who recently wrote a letter claiming that Feinberg’s confidential deal with BP was perfectly ethical, even though he hadn’t actually read any contract, acknowledged that his $950-an-hour fee came from BP funds.

To see how folks in the Gulf feel about Feinberg and his crew, scroll right down to the nearly 400 raw comments following this story in the Mobile paper about how Feinberg is once again promising to improve the claims process. It’s very hard to stop reading.

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