Alabama Gov. Limits Fees in Oil Spill Lawsuit

August 17, 2010

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has signed an executive order limiting attorney fees in lawsuits the attorney general has filed over the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a decision that reignites a political feud between the two politicians.

Riley signed the order Thursday, shortly before Attorney General Troy King sued British oil company BP PLC and three other companies involved in an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The accident triggered the nation’s worst offshore oil spill, closed fisheries and sent oil washing onto Alabama’s coastline.

King sued against the wishes of Riley, who had hoped to reach an out-of-court settlement with the companies.

Under the order, the governor’s office must approve of any legal contract offering compensation greater than $195 per hour or that has a contingency fee agreement.

Riley said the attorney general offered private law firms a contingency fee of 14 percent of the state’s total claim to join the case. He estimated the resulting legal fees could be worth nearly $20 million.

He said the executive order “protects taxpayers from getting ripped off by lawyers who expect to make millions of dollars, even when they play no actual role in getting Alabamians the payments they deserve.”

King said he has not signed any contracts with legal firms, but he said the governor was naive if he thought the state could handle the litigation on its own.

“This is one of the biggest corporations in the world,” King said. “They know the budget constraints we’ve got.”

Both Republican politicians are leaving office in January. The candidates running for attorney general _ Republican Robert Bentley and Democrat Ron Sparks _ say they support the lawsuits.

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