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Judge Barbier’s escrow order challenged

January 13, 2012

On January 4, Judge Barbier clarified his order to hold 6% of claimants’ settlements for attorneys’ fees by stating that only those settlements who hadn’t received a determination letter from BP as of Dec 31st would be affected.  Barbier intends this money to be held in an escrow account so that the attorneys who make up the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee (PSC) may later petition to receive those funds as payment for their services.  However, should Barbier decide that the PSC has not fulfilled its obligations, or should BP have to pay PSC lawyers’ fees, the money will be refunded back to the original claimants.  Those claimants who decide to sue, rather than accept the settlement proposed by Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), will not see the 6% reduction in their award.  Instead, the 6% assessment will be taken from the fee they agreed to pay their attorneys.

One of the 19 lawyers on the PSC says withholding the money is justified because the PSC is doing basic work that all claimants will benefit from.  However, many other attorneys and the department of Justice argue that the only work PSC has done was to prepare for a 3-part trial to begin Feb 27, which is based in maritime law.  The problem is that the judge has already ruled that the claimants cannot sue under maritime law because they lack standing.  Instead the claimants can only make claims under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) against BP, or go through the GCCF.  It is inherently unfair and against the principles of the OPA to force claimants to pay for legal fees that will, by Barbier’s own decision, not benefit their claims.  The Department of Justice, Florida Attorney General Bondi, and a number of attorneys have petitioned to have Barbier’s order retracted.

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