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Lawyers sanctioned over misconduct with BP damage claims

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has barred three lawyers — including one who worked inside a court-supervised facility — from handling damage claims over BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill because they allegedly set up a system of payments to help speed claims through the process.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued sanctions against lawyers Lionel Sutton III, Jonathan Andry and Glen Lerner. None of the lawyers has been charged with a crime.

Barbier ruled that all three lawyers be disqualified from representing clients with damage claims against the oil giant over its 2010 spill.

Barbier also ordered a court-appointed special master who investigated the allegations to file complaints with disciplinary authorities in Louisiana and Nevada. Lerner is based in Las Vegas.

Accused along with Sutton was his wife, Christine Reitano, who also worked at the claims center. Barbier found no evidence of wrongdoing on her part and imposed no sanctions on her.

Related: BP appeals U.S. judge’s ruling on size of Gulf oil spill

Messages seeking comment were left with the three lawyers but were not immediately answered.

In 2013, Barbier appointed ex-FBI director Louis Freeh as a special master to investigate the allegations of wrongdoing inside the claims processing center. Freeh issued a report later that year that found wrongdoing by the three lawyers.

Sutton was accused of receiving about $40,000 for helping speed up the claims of Andry and Lerner clients.

At a November hearing on the allegations, Barbier charged that the three lawyers, who went to Tulane University law school together, clearly had acted unethically.

Barbier said he was deeply troubled by the lawyers’ moves to hide the payments in a circuitous way, and he accused Sutton and Andry of lying to investigators. He also ruled that the three lawyers should not be allowed to receive lawyers’ fees for claims they handled. However Barbier said a law firm set up by Andry and Lerner to handle hundreds of claims should be allowed to collect fees for legal work it had previously done on legitimate claims.

The judge said that while the lawyers had violated ethics rules, he said there was no evidence that the claims process itself was manipulated or corrupted.


This article was written by Cain Burdeau from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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