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The BP courtroom scandal you didn’t see coming, and other BP legal news

Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media

BP and the Deepwater Horizon disaster have been hot topics in the courtroom during the past week, from the continuation of litigation against BP for the events of April 20, 2010 and the aftermath to those who have attempted to take advantage of the payout program with fraudulent claims. Here’s a breakdown of the past week’s developments.


1. BP’s lawyers don’t know how to follow rules

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier chastised BP’s lawyers last week for a document tactic you might expect from an over-enthusiastic high school student. Jennifer Larino for the Times-Picayune reports that, in order to fit more content, the lawyers adjusted the line spacing. The document was required to be double-spaced and had a 35-page limit, as per Barbier’s instructions. However, the line spacing was just under the double-spacing standard, allowing what equated to six additional pages of content into the document. Unimpressed, Barbier stated, “The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules – particularly in a case as massive and complex as this.”


2. Costs in the Gulf are nearing $50 billion for BP

BP’s initial cost estimates following the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe were approximately $40 billion. However, according to the Associated Press, current costs are actually reaching $50 billion, far beyond the 2010 estimate. More than $27 billion of that total has gone to damage claims and environmental restorations alone. For a complete breakdown of where BP’s money has gone, see the AP’s full article.


3. FERC staff testimony that BP manipulated NatGas market

Industry analysts filed a testimony with the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee stating that a team of BP employees in Texas were involved in fixed-price natural gas trading at the Houston Ship Channel in 2008. David Bradly for Natural Gas Intelligence reported Tuesday that the analysts determined that, based on the team’s physical positions and its HSC-Henry Hub spread position, the business dealings suddenly shifted. BP has until December 8 to file a responsive testimony. The hearing for the case will take place March 2 of next year.


4. Ex-BP engineer Mix trial continues

As the trial continues for Kurt Mix, former BP engineer, concerns have risen for the future of lawyer-juror interaction. In Mix’s first case, the verdict was overturned because a juror had taken into account a conversation she’d overheard outside of the courtroom. Andy Grimm for the Times-Picayune reports that this conversation was not presented in a court of law but held sway over the decision made by the jury, creating need for a new trial. However, this instance highlighted another issue: lawyers reaching out to jurors. New rules proposed in the Eastern District of Louisiana in June could make it impossible for lawyers and jurors to converse during a trial, possibly to any degree, without the permission or presence of a judge.


5. Man charged with fraud for false claim against BP

Fraud has fallen on both sides of the issue in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon. The claims program offered to those affected by the spill has been taken advantage of by several individuals, including one man from Slidell who was charged Tuesday with wire fraud. Jennifer Larino for the Times-Picayune reported that Casey Thonn was found guilty of two counts of wire fraud after filing a fraudulent tax return form with his damage claim. Upon receiving his payments, $357,000 was transferred to his lawyer via two wire transfers, the action resulting in the charges.


6. Barbier may hold hearing for corruption allegations against BP’s claims program

Barbier may hold a hearing in the future to hear corruption allegations against BP’s claims program. Following the sudden resignation of Lionel Sutton III, a lawyer for the claims center, allegations of fraudulent behavior on the lawyer’s part rose enough suspicion for Barbier to order more investigation into the matter. However, the reports put forth thus far have left Barbier dissatisfied, according to Richard Thompson for The Advocate. A hearing could create the opportunity to receive previously unheard testimony.


7. Decision for clean-up worker claims delayed

Individuals seeking claims for health effects acquired during cleanup in the wake the Deepwater Horizon must continue to wait, according to Jennifer Larino for the Times-Picayune. BP recently claimed that it is not currently obligated to settle claims for conditions diagnosed after April 16, 2012, as per the original settlement agreed to by the company. This date, according to BP, was meant to differentiate between acute ailments, which are currently being settled in court, and chronic illnesses, which will be addressed at a later date. While Barbier upheld this in July, the judge was asked this week by the Plaintiffs’ lawyers to reconsider, claiming that the agreement applied to a specific set of symptoms, not a diagnosis date. Barbier postponed a decision in the matter.


8. Transocean Deepwater Drilling Corp. now under scrutiny for involvement in D.H.

The blowout preventer that failed to seal the Macondo well following the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, manufactured and owned by Transocean Deepwater Drilling Corp., has been called to question in BP’s legal battle over fines under the Clean Water Act. Collin Eaton for the Houston Chronicle reports that the faulty equipment was the center of BP’s filing last Friday, in which the company claimed that the preventer’s inability to close the well was the cause of the 87-day spill from the seabed. The company purports that this is a vital distinction that exempts it from punishment under the Clean Water Act, as BP did not own the equipment at fault.

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