Guest Commentary: New Evidence Released in Oil Spill Settlement Debacle Leaves Another Black Eye on Louisiana’s Legal Reputation

Guest Commentary: New Evidence Released in Oil Spill Settlement Debacle Leaves Another Black Eye on Louisiana’s Legal Reputation

New data and information surfacing about the claims administrator for the Gulf oil spill settlement, Patrick Juneau, raise serious questions about whether he merits serving in this role.  The new allegations also reinforce the notion of a legal system that’s gone awry.

Since being tapped to oversee settlement claims in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2012, Juneau has presided over several high profile scandals.  From the systemic payment of questionable claims, to allegations of expediting claims for friendly lawyers, and more allegations of money laundering and other unethical behavior that caused several of his top officials to resign, it is clear Juneau’s tenure with the Court Supervised Settlement Program has been marked by controversy.

We now learn from a BP filing that Juneau may have had a disqualifying conflict of interest at the time he was appointed to serve as a special master in the case. The filing alleges that Juneau said he had no involvement with Deepwater prior to being hired as an unbiased claims administrator, but in fact, he had been consulting on the case with the state for over a year—sucking more than $275,000 out of the public trough. The bottom line is his work as an aggressive advocate on behalf of a plaintiff calls into question his ability to act with impartiality and undermines public trust in the entire process.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the filing also alleges Juneau has spent more than $1 billion in administrative costs over the last 2 years—that’s roughly $1 on overhead for every $5 paid out to claimants.  It is hard to make the U.S. government look efficient, but the claims process under Juneau has made Pentagon procurement specialists look like penny pinchers.  That’s a billion dollars that could have gone — that should have gone — to legitimate oil spill victims, not to self-serving lawyers and administrators.

The people deserve better than this.  They deserve a transparent and efficient process where those who have legitimate claims can quickly recover their losses. It is hard to look at what’s happened over the last twenty-four months and conclude that that’s what we have in place.

If proven true, any one of these allegations should be enough to merit removal of the embattled claims administrator.  But taken together, they paint a picture of a system that is severely broken. As we’ve advocated from the beginning, the spill is a tragedy—not an excuse for anyone to game the system for their own personal profit.  The court should act quickly to ensure that the rule of law is being followed and that the settlement process is fair for all the remaining claimants who were truly harmed by this tragic incident.

Melissa Landry is executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit citizen watchdog group dedicated to improving Louisiana’s legal system.

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