In connection with BP’s trying to back out of its settlement, the oil giant, with no justification, has mounted an enormous media campaign fueled by misinformation, exaggeration and, in many cases, complete fabrication of facts. All of this in a blatant attempt to twist public opinion in the oil giant’s favor. The company has apparently started to believe its own statements, as BP filed an emergency motion seeking to enjoin all payments (again) in the Deepwater Horizon Settlement Facility. As expected, Judge Barbier immediately denied BP’s motion after oral argument and without taking the motion under advisement.
Judge Barbier did not appear to be very happy with BP’s media campaign and character attacks on Administrator Pat Juneau, having this to say in open court:
[I]t’s really disappointing when so many basic, fundamental misrepresentations get reported and then somebody has to try to go around correcting these things… Unfortunately, it seems to the Court that there has been a great deal of misinformation widely reported that has contributed to creating confusion by conflating two entirely separate issues.
BP’s arguments centered on recent allegations that two staff attorneys in the program shared referral fees with private attorneys who represented a limited number of claimants previously represented by the staff attorneys. The two staff attorneys were immediately terminated and all potentially impacted claims placed on hold. But BP attempted to create a story of widespread fraud and lawlessness in the Facility to gain favor with public opinion and the Fifth Circuit. However, BP produced no evidence in court to back up its claims. The Facility’s internal interim report revealed no improper calculations by the two staff attorneys, or any potential to influence calculations or payments based on the multi-layered settlement administration process. Judge Barbier had this to say:
BP has not produced any evidence that would warrant the Court taking the drastic step of shutting down the entire claims program … It would be unfair to those claimants to stop all claim payments based on BP’s unsubstantiated suspicions or allegations of some type of widespread misconduct. When a lot of misinformation is spread by … someone involved in the case, it’s troubling.
The night before oral argument, BP CEO Bob Dudley ripped Pat Juneau and accused him of “hijacking” the settlement. Judge Barbier responded during the hearing in court saying: “I find the recent attacks on Mr. Juneau’s character are highly offensive and inappropriate.” Judge Barbier added that Mr. Dudley’s comments were “especially offensive and inappropriate … coming from of all things the CEO of a party to this Settlement Agreement, a party who not only proposed Mr. Juneau for this appointment, but gave great praise to his dedication and work up through and including the final fairness hearing and final approval of the Settlement Agreement. These personal attacks, hyperbole, and use of such language in my opinion crosses the line … [and] should stop.”
Corporate conduct should be judged harshly – just as it would be if it were conduct by a person – when the corporation utilizes outright lies and deception in an effort to sway a judicial decision and the outcome of an agreed-upon settlement. I believe the American people will see through all of what BP is doing and refuse to be swayed.
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