Lawyers Set To Make Millions Off BP Oil Spill Settlement

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

BP has agreed to pay $18.7 billion to the federal government, five states and hundreds of local governments for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico– a settlement that could make millions of dollars for lawyers.

Jefferson Parish in Louisiana approved a handsome $53.1 million settlement with BP last week for the economic damages caused by BP’s spill five years ago. But nearly a quarter of that settlement will go to pay off the Parish’s lawyers, according to NOLA.com. So far, the law firm’s payout will be $11.7 million.

Reports like this have led media coverage across the five Gulf of Mexico states impacted by the massive 2010 spill. Taken together, lawyers representing state and local interests will make many millions of dollars.

Cities in southern Mississippi are seeing huge chunks of their BP settlement funds going to pay off attorneys. The Sun Herald reports these law firms “stand to earn up to one-quarter of the money received” and that one firm could “get almost $1 million.”

Biloxi, Mississippi settled with BP for $5 million, but the city’s attorneys fees came out to be close to $1 million — about 20 percent of the total settlement.

In a meeting, officials with the town of Gulfport, Mississippi talked about its potential BP settlement, noting the town’s attorney Al Hopkins “would receive 15 percent of the amount the city recovers from BP,” reports the Sun Herald.

Attorneys fees reported by news outlets generally run between 15 and 30 percent of settlement amounts. Not too shabby when local governments are being paid $1 billion and states are raking in $5 billion for economic damages alone. Billions more will go towards Clean Water Act violations and repairing damages to natural resources.

Even in Louisiana, parish governments will see their winnings reduced “by court costs and attorneys’’ fees, which amount to 25 percent of the settlement as approved by the state Attorney General’s Office,” reports the New Orleans Advocate.

St. Tammany Parish attorneys Walter Leger (who’s representing 40 other local governments against BP) and Tom Thornhill will get 25 percent of the parish’s $16.8 million settlement. The Tammany School Board alone will face attorney’s fees of $3.9 million, but will get $11.6 million for themselves.

The Kenner City Council recently approved a $9.3 million settlement with BP Thursday night, and the council president bragged the city got a big chunk of money relative to what other parishes and cities got. But Kenner will pay “between 21 percent and 24 percent of the money it receives to attorneys for costs and fees.”

Aside from lawyers making money from representing local governments, critics are already blasting private lawyers hired by Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to represent the state. Those lawyers could make millions, reports The Louisiana Record.

“Eight of the 11 law firms working on the state’s case made political contributions to the attorney general,” Melissa Landry, head of the legal watchdog group Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Record.

“Over the last five years, they’ve submitted legal bills totaling more than $13.2 million,” Landry said of the private lawyers. “Now they want their money, but I hope auditors and state lawmakers will take a good long look at these bills before making any payouts.”

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