Gulf oil spill victims applaud choice of New Orleans court
A federal judicial panel's decision to consolidate lawsuits arising from the gulf oil spill in New Orleans has been praised by lawyers representing victims who have lost livelihoods and loved ones in the environmental disaster.
Commercial fishermen, gulf shore property owners, charter operators and tourism purveyors had filed the bulk of the 300-plus lawsuits in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Their lawyers say the New Orleans location will be most convenient to the majority of those harmed by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the millions of gallons of oil that gushed into the gulf waters.
"We are pleased that the case will be heard in the area that has been most impacted by the BP disaster," said Charlie Tebbutt, an Oregon lawyer representing the Center for Biological Diversity in its suit under the Clean Water Act seeking as much as $19 billion in compensation.
"The decision is welcome news for Louisiana and our people, who have been at the epicenter of this tragic event,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said of the decision to send the legal fallout to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who has experience in handling complex, multi-jurisdictional litigation.
Russell Budd, head of Dallas-based plaintiffs firm Baron & Budd representing gulf businesses hurt by the spill, said New Orleans was appropriate as "the epicenter of the disaster" and Barbier as "highly qualified" and already engaged with many of the cases.
Barbier, one of the few Eastern District judges who hasn't recused himself in the oil spill cases because of energy industry ties or investments, said in June that he had told his broker to sell any stocks and holdings that might be seen as posing a conflict of interest. His financial disclosure form filed in April listed numerous energy investments, including defendants Transocean and Halliburton.
BP, Transocean and other defendant companies had argued before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation that the Gulf oil lawsuits should be consolidated in Houston, the hub of the oil industry. They had also sought Barbier's recusal but were denied by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Barbier, appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton, has set a Sept. 17 pretrial hearing on the cases.
-- Carol J. Williams
Photo: Becky Winstead of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies takes a swab of a dead sea turtle in Gulfport, Miss. More than 350 have been found dead or foundering along the Gulf Coast since the oil spill. -- Credit: Carolyn Cole Los Angeles Times