Four attorneys from Texas, Louisiana and Florida were appointed last Friday to a committee to lead the hundreds of oil spill-related lawsuits against BP Plc and its partners, according to court documents.
The committee will coordinate the activities of the 15-member plaintiffs’ steering committee that was also appointed on Friday by Judge Carl Barbier.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been brought by fishermen, restaurant owners, hotels and injured workers stemming from the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which set off the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
A federal judicial panel sent most of the spill-related lawsuits from around the country to Barbier, a federal judge based in New Orleans.
The executive panel is made up of Jim Roy and Steve Herman, Louisiana lawyers who had already have been acting as the plaintiffs’ co-liaison counsel, which can be a largely administrative role coordinating with the court.
Joining them will be Texas attorney Scott Summy of the Baron and Budd law firm based in Dallas and Brian Barr of Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, which is based in Pensacola, Florida.
The 15-member steering committee includes Elizabeth Cabraser, a California attorney who led the fight against Exxon over the company’s Valdez spill in Alaska. She is also playing a lead role in lawsuits against Toyota Motor Corp over claims its cars raced out of control.
The committee also includes Mike Espy, the Agriculture Secretary for former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Espy is now a Mississippi lawyer.
A seat on the committee gives the lawyer the power to shape the direction of the case as well as command a larger slice of the settlement.
Attorneys left off the committee essentially lose control of the lawsuits they have filed against BP and others.
More than 100 attorneys applied for the steering committee, and several notable applicants were excluded.
David Boies, who represented Al Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that decided the disputed 2000 presidential election, was not appointed.
Nor were heavyweights among plaintiffs attorneys such as Mark Lanier, a Texas attorney, or Joseph Rice of the Motley Rice law firm in South Carolina.
The steering committee also excluded a group of mostly Texas attorneys who dubbed themselves the “Deepwater Horizon Casualty Coalition” that represented most of the workers who were injured or killed in the rig explosion.
The coalition clashed with other plaintiffs’ attorneys by pushing for an aggressive schedule that included trials on key issues in March.
The judge eventually set February 2012 for trying the main issues in the consolidated lawsuits, including how to parse blame for the spill among BP and its partners in the well.
The case in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, 2010, No. 10-MDL-2179.
(Reporting by Tom Hals)
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