[StBernard] Along southeast Louisiana coast, oiled parishes ready legal teams

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Aug 4 08:51:31 EDT 2010

Along southeast Louisiana coast, oiled parishes ready legal teams
Published: Tuesday, August 03, 2010, 4:41 PM Updated: Tuesday, August
03, 2010, 5:14 PM
Richard Rainey, The Times-Picayune

Jefferson Parish interim President Steve Theriot said his administration has
begun searching for an outside lawyer to handle any future litigation
against BP, the oil giant responsible for the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig
disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration is soliciting proposals through Aug. 12, despite the $2.1
million BP has already paid for the parish's cost of the response effort and
the company's promise that it will pay the rest.

"We just want to prepare ourselves in case we do have to pull the trigger,"
Theriot said.

As BP works to end the oil leak in its Macondo well, Jefferson and other
coastal parishes most affected by it are beginning to look past the current
flow of money from the company to the future possibility that they will need
to fight for reparations.

St. Bernard Parish, for example, has hired New Orleans attorney Walter Leger
to manage any oil-related lawsuits, parish spokeswoman Jennifer Belsom said.
None had been filed as of Tuesday, she said. Leger couldn't be reached.

Jefferson and St. Bernard joined Terrebonne, Lafourche and Plaquemines
parishes in accepting $1 million each in May from BP as an advance against
the expenses they would incur fighting the oil. Lafourche spokesman Brennan
Matherne said Parish President Charlotte Randolph's administration had not
retained a lawyer yet because the parish had not spent any of its own money
on the clean-up effort. Spokespersons for Terrebonne and Plaquemines didn't
respond Tuesday to requests for information.

A lawsuit from Jefferson would likely focus more on any economic ruin caused
by the catastrophe than the cost of the clean-up effort itself, Theriot
said. He cited the loss of property and sales tax revenue that would follow
any business closings.

BP has repeatedly promised to make whole those communities damaged by the
oil spill. The company didn't return a message left Tuesday at its Houma
office seeking comment.

Theriot said the need for an expert in the oil business led to the decision
to seek outside help rather than hand the cases to an in-house attorney. In
past lawsuits, he said, the settlements often covered attorneys' fees.

"This is more of a precautionary thing to put us in positioning," he said.
"I don't want to get down the road and have things fall by the wayside."

It's unclear whether government claims will be handled alongside those of
individuals or businesses. Ken Feinberg, the presidentially appointed
gatekeeper for $20 billion that BP put aside to mitigate the loss of
livelihoods on the coast, has told local governments that their woes so far
don't fall under his management.

Likewise, a panel of seven federal judges meeting in Boise, Idaho, has not
decided whether dozens of pending claims should be heard en masse in a
courtroom either in Houston or New Orleans. A ruling is expected in the next
two weeks, but any subsequent lawsuit from Jefferson or St. Bernard would be
considered a "tagalong action" and have to be reviewed individually by the
panel, said Susan Boland the panel's acting executive.

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