HARRY R. WEBER
NEW ORLEANS (AP) A Louisiana attorney suing BP over the Gulf oil spill opposes a request by fellow plaintiffs attorneys to rein in compensation fund czar Ken Feinberg, saying Tuesday he believes Feinberg is doing a good job.
Daniel Becnel, whose firm represents a number of people and businesses affected by the disaster, said in court papers that the claims process would be slowed down if U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier intervenes.
Among other things, the lead plaintiffs attorneys want changes made to a release form claimants must sign if they accept a final payment from Feinberg. They don't want those claimants to have to give up their rights to sue certain parties.
Becnel said Feinberg is trying to help victims. He said other attorneys are trying to protect their legal fees.
Feinberg has come under fire for the speed at which claims are being handled and for his relationship with BP, which set up the $20 billion fund Feinberg is administering. The oil company is paying Feinberg's law firm $850,000 a month for his work.
BP money also is being used to pay an expert in legal ethics who has advised Feinberg on his role as administrator of the fund. The expert wrote a letter recently supporting Feinberg's contention that he is independent of BP.
A public advocacy group on Tuesday asked attorneys general in three Gulf states for help obtaining records related to Feinberg's relationship with BP.
Barbier has given the parties involved in the lawsuits until Friday to file any opposition to the Dec. 21 request to rein in Feinberg. More than 300 suits have been filed over the spill. The court handling all the consolidated cases has assigned lead attorneys to act as liaisons for the numerous plaintiffs attorneys.
The lead attorneys say people should only have to give up the right to sue BP for compensatory damages if they accept a final payment from the fund, but they should still be allowed to go after BP in court for punitive damages. And, the lawyers say, people who accept final payments from the fund should be allowed to sue other responsible parties for both compensatory and punitive damages.
Feinberg currently requires people who accept final payments to agree not to sue BP or any other responsible party, including companies involved with the rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded April 20, 2010, off the coast of Louisiana.
The blast killed 11 workers and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from BP's undersea well, according to government estimates that BP disputes.
The fund is separate from the oil spill litigation, but the lead attorneys argue Barbier has authority to intervene to protect spill victims.
Becnel, in his opposition Tuesday, argued that Barbier doesn't have authority to intervene because Feinberg was appointed by President Barack Obama.