Environmental

BP-affiliated law firm hired to advise oil spill claimants in Mississippi

Years from now, law students may study the case of Ken Feinberg and his handling of BP oil spill claims in their textbook chapter about legal ethics and conflicts of interest.

Mr. Feinberg — the man appointed to oversee the BP oil spill claims process through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) — is on BP’s payroll to the tune of $850,000 per month. This is the man who decides how much individuals and businesses harmed by BP’s massive Gulf oil spill will be reimbursed and when they will be paid, and all the conditions that apply.

But that’s not all. Mr. Feinberg recently appointed the Jackson-based Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewes law firm to advise oil spill claimants in Mississippi – the same firm that has been representing some of BP’s interests since June 2010.

According to legal contracts obtained by the Mobile Press-Register, BP hired Brunini attorneys to distribute contracts to university scientists along the Gulf Coast with the promise of lucrative consulting fees if they agreed to become part of BP’s legal defense against the U.S. government in a pending lawsuit over the oil spill. As the Press-Register notes, these contracts describe Brunini lawyers as “BP attorneys.”

So why would Feinberg hire BP attorneys to advise people who are seeking damages from BP?

The Press-Register put that question to Mr. Feinberg’s office. “Ken was aware that Brunini was doing some work for BP, but it is completely separate,” Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Feinberg, said. “There is a wall in between. Ken did vet it, and there is no conflict. Any lawyers at that firm that are working for BP are not working on anything related to the GCCF.”

In other words, Mr. Feinberg doesn’t recognize that hiring BP attorneys to handle claims made by people harmed by BP as the huge and blaring opposing interest that it is.

This unusual legal arrangement also draws the curtains on a stipulation Mr. Feinberg created for those making claims against the $20-billion BP oil spill fund. Before accepting a final payment from the stash lorded over by Mr. Feinberg, claimants must waive their right to seek additional compensation against BP or others involved in the oil spill in the future, even though it’s still anyone’s guess what lasting effects the oil spill will have on coastal and marine environments and all those who depend upon them for a living.