TLP: And You Thought The Oil Spill Was Messy
Hey, look at this. Seems the oil industry does prepare for some things. Maybe not so much when it comes to exploding offshore rigs, but definitely when we're talking litigation.
Props to the AP (via The Washington Post):
More than half of the federal judges in districts where the bulk of Gulf oil spill-related lawsuits are pending have financial connections to the oil and gas industry, complicating the task of finding judges without conflicts to hear the cases, an Associated Press analysis of judicial financial disclosure reports shows.Those are encouraging developments from a few of the judges the AP tagged as holding oil in their portfolios. Still more than a few more to be heard from.
Thirty-seven of the 64 active or senior judges in key Gulf Coast districts in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have links to oil, gas and related energy industries, including some who own stocks or bonds in BP PLC, Halliburton or Transocean - and others who regularly list receiving royalties from oil and gas production wells, according to the reports judges must file each year. The AP reviewed 2008 disclosure forms, the most recent available.
Those three companies are named as defendants in virtually all of the 150-plus lawsuits seeking damages, mainly for economic losses in the fishing, seafood, tourism and related industries, that have been filed over the growing oil spill since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Attorneys for the companies and those suing them are pushing for consolidation of the cases in one court, with BP recommending Texas and others advocating for Louisiana and other states.
A Washington-based federal judicial panel is scheduled to meet next month to decide whether to consolidate the cases and, if so, which judge should be assigned the monumental task. The job would include such key pretrial decisions as certifying a large class of plaintiffs to seek damages, a potential multibillion-dollar settlement, whether to dismiss the cases and what documents BP and the other companies might be forced to produce in court.
The AP review of disclosure statements shows the oil and gas industry's roots run as deep in the Gulf Coast's judiciary as they do in the region's economy. For example, one federal judge in Texas is a member of Houston's Petroleum Club, an "exclusive, handsome club of, and for, men of the oil industry."
Federal judicial rules require judges to disqualify themselves from hearing cases involving a company in which they have a direct financial interest, and some Louisiana judges have already done so. For example, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon in New Orleans, who reported ownership of BP stock, issued an order in early May that the court clerk not allot cases involving BP or related entities to her docket.
Another New Orleans jurist, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, said in court Friday he is selling his oil and gas investments - which included Transocean and Halliburton - to avoid any perception of a conflict. Barbier is presiding over about 20 spill-related lawsuits and some attorneys are recommending that he be chosen to oversee all cases filed nationally.
Still another judge in Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, recused himself because his attorney son-in-law is representing several people and businesses filing suits against BP and the other companies over the rig explosion.