WASHINGTON, DC—The Washington Legal Foundation this past week asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to remove the court-appointed Claims Administrator who for the past 2 1/2 years has been evaluating all claims filed by those seeking to recover economic losses suffered as a result of the 2010 explosion of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, and the subsequent oil spill.  In a brief filed in support of BP Exploration & Production, Inc. and other BP-related entities (the companies that agreed to compensate those who suffered losses), WLF argued that removal is required under a federal statute that requires disqualification of a judicial officer “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

In March 2012, BP agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Louisiana on behalf of all individuals alleged to have who suffered economic loss as a result of the oil spill.  The district court appointed Patrick Juneau, a Louisiana attorney, as Claims Administrator for the settlement; he was charged with evaluating each of the tens of thousands of claims and determining which merited compensation.  To date, Mr. Juneau has approved claims totaling many billions of dollars, but the majority of claims has not yet been evaluated.

WLF’s brief charged that Mr. Juneau failed to disclose that, prior to his appointment, he undertook extensive legal work on behalf of Louisiana in connection with oil-spill-related litigation, and that the work was directly adverse to BP’s interests.  WLF argued that Mr. Juneau’s prior work (the details of which were only recently uncovered) created an appearance of partiality that requires his removal as Claims Administrator.  WLF asserted that removal was particularly warranted because Mr. Juneau’s recent statements suggest an effort to hide the nature of his prior work.  Following its filing, WLF issued the following statement by Chief Counsel Richard Samp: 

“Patrick Juneau, the individual appointed by the federal courts to decide claims asserted pursuant to the class-wide settlement of lawsuits arising out of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, failed to disclose legal work he performed (prior to his appointment) on behalf of those suing BP in connection with the spill.  That legal work creates an appearance of partiality and requires Mr. Juneau’s removal.  A basic tenet of the American legal system is that all judicial officers must maintain the appearance of impartiality.” 

WLF is a national public interest law firm and policy center that regularly litigates in support of the rule of law and the ethical administration of justice.

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